Monday, 8 August 2011

Limitless [Review]

Before you read this review, take a moment to consider the collective intellect of the human race: a race that fights wars with itself. Now imagine a world where the human race harnessed the full potential of their brainpower, as opposed to the twenty or so percent that we use now (a statistic that surely decreases every generation). What is the more likely outcome? That we might learn to exist with ourselves peacefully; that weapons might be abolished, and all violence might end? Or that we’d simply find bigger and better ways of blowing ourselves to kingdom come?

Limitless attempts to answer that question through a singular entity, in the form of struggling writer Edward Morra (portrayed here by a surprisingly well-cast Bradley Cooper). Recently split from his girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish) after spending months without having written a word towards his book contract, Morra is the epitome of a typical down-and-out soul. So when an opportunity comes knocking, it’s little surprise he takes it - even if that opportunity is in the form of a brain-enhancing drug he knows next to nothing about.

It’s clear where things are heading. Soon, dark side-effects emerge as Morra becomes hooked on the small, clear pill, and attempts to go cold-turkey prove almost fatal. But it’s not the medical consequences of the drug which prove most interesting: it’s how the character harnesses those consequences for his own gains. Fortune, inevitably, comes first - abandoning his career as a writer, Eddie turns to the stock market and quickly amasses a rather large amount of money (think seven figures). In comes the film’s other big name, Robert De Niro, as high-flying businessman Carl Van Loon, seeking to exploit Morra’s success for his own corporate merger. De Niro and Cooper work well together, but undoubtedly it’s Cooper who steals the show - boasting his range in a film that zips between murky grunge and high-flying suavity in seconds. Things turn awry, however, as it emerges that the drug is in wider circulation than first thought, and a number of people surrounding Morra’s newfound life have also been subjected to its effects.

A genuinely intriguing and inviting plot is gifted to Limitless, then, and its title is certainly befitting of the protagonist’s capabilities while ‘under the influence’. But whilst the film’s first hour offers so much potential; so many avenues that director Neil Burger could have taken, surrounding the complex nature of a sudden and unexpected rise to power - and the risks such gains carry to those unprepared to deal with the nature of them - none of them are followed. Instead, we’re left feeling hollow and unfulfilled - probably the opposite of the filmmaker’s intentions, given the tacked on ‘twelve months later’ ending to a plot that can’t decide where to head (and so inevitably heads nowhere). Bouncing back and forth between high and low, there’s an apparently limitless supply of the drug too, despite its only dealer being murdered fifteen minutes in. Limitless promises much, but gives far less.

But while the plot might have its misgivings in the final act, the directorial style is notable all the way through. A monotonous narration by Cooper suits alarmingly well, if at times feeling a little contrived, whilst the CGI is subtle yet convincing in exemplifying the enhancing consequences of the drug. Similarly, the contrasting mise-en-scenes of the different-states-of-Eddie are a delightful change of pace, again emphasising the drug’s effects - from moody, murky greens and browns to bright colours and sharp details. The directive flair is marvellous, and in this way, Burger almost manages to overcome the lacklustre finale. His next project is the film adaptation of videogame Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune - an undertaking first associated with David O. Russell. If Limitless is anything to go by, be thankful of the change.

Limitless is a rare beast; a spark of originality in a dense, dark amalgam of sequels and clones - but one that falls short of true brilliance, failing to pursue its ambitious setup in favour of riding out a predictable and clich├ęd climax. Yet whilst it might disappoint many in its promise of a deep, psychological thriller, it still retains some of its premise, with an intriguing and complex first act. Its attempts to cater to such a large audience might perhaps be its downfall, but Limitless still remains enjoyable for the most part, if ending up a little unsatisfying in its execution.

See also: Pi (1998), Total Recall (1990)

Dir: Neil Burger
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Abbie Cornish, Robert De Niro
Relativity Media, 105 mins, 23/03/11

Synopsis: Down on his luck writer Edward Morra (Cooper) becomes hooked on a drug that vastly increases his intelligence. But with great [brain]power comes great responsibility...


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