Limitless: film reviewPosted: April 9, 2011
The opening credits to Neil Burger’s Limitless seem to draw you in and escape beyond you as if watching a 3D film without the glasses. With over forty crew members listed in the visual and special effects departments, this is a feature film awash with CGI to visually depict the protagonist’s newfound lucidity. Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper), a writer with no written words to speak of, and a steadily depreciating future, meets his former brother-in-law by chance, and in their brief exchange he is given a pill that changes his outlook forever. On taking the pill, Eddie feels instant clarity and is able to recall slivers of information and piece them together to give him an appearance of heightened intelligence.
Presented in a style typical of film noir, with a do or die cliff-hanger, and the protagonist’s voice-over offering constant narration, we are thrust back in time to discover how this young well-dressed man comes to be standing on the ledge of the balcony to his $8.5 million apartment. And as the film unravels we also have to ask the question – do we care? The gift of this lucidity and the wave of success it suddenly brings on feels reminiscent of the life a small child imagines they would have if they got to be a princess! Eddie finishes the novel that has been inside him for years in just four days, so what would be the natural progression for anyone with such tenacious creativity? – the Wall Street stock market, of course, where, he turns a few thousand dollars into twelve million, in just ten days. He becomes fluent in languages he’s never before tried to learn, has a newfound confidence to hold everyone’s attention with pseudo-intelligent spiels that result in laughter, smiles and pats on the back, and he becomes a magnet to the opposite sex: an everyday superhero. However, this gift comes from daily dependency upon a drug; the film also explores the effects this may have upon his physical and mental health. However, these explorations seem half-hearted, dwelling on limitations posed by use of the drug and then reasserting the limitless nature of it inferred by the title wherever narratively convenient, but ultimately it never answers any of the questions it poses.
There is a lot of potential for the ideas at the heart of this story, but Limitless is a flawed execution – a nice stamping ground for the special effects team, but zooming through cityscapes quickly loses it novelty, and is no substitute for a plot. The status of the pill, as an addictive drug remains a wooly area throughout. Eddie’s girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish) says it makes you feel invincible, but not a real depiction of yourself. Yet when Eddie takes it to elude a sticky situation, the pill is depicted with the metaphorical prowess of a super-hero cape, and the protagonist is lionised. Referring back to the film noir conceits there was potential here for something darker, something clever – considering man’s desire for omnipotence, for a strange relationship with drugs and sudden glory, to engage the viewer with a man ultimately destined for pitfalls. However Edward Morra is the epitome of a Hollywood producer’s wet dream. He uses his newfound creative ingenuity for solely financial gain, and is sitting pretty upon a mound of money within weeks, and a throng of women gagging to have sex with him and small death toll mounts up with so little reference we can barely register it, and yet the film infers no culpability on Eddie’s part at all. In fact, a brief contemplation alone of his promiscuity and the violence he has caused whilst on the drug seems to be enough to exonerate him. I find it extraordinary that Leslie Dixon has written and produced this film, as it only offers up offensively two-dimensional female characters. To which everyone else seems blissfully unaware given Abbie Cornish’s high billing. The only things we know about her character is that she is an editor with her own assistant, and that she can vacuously adapt her love for these two opposing Eddies. I could possibly have felt a little more towards Limitless, if I was not so throughly let down by the end, which made the entire film, and all that it may have tried to do feel like a lot of hot air. Made for $27 million, it has already made that back and more, and given that six people applauded in the showing I was at shows it clearly has audience it will appeal to, but for me apart from residual agitation this is instantly forgettable entertainment.