Sunday, 27 March 2011

Limitless - Drugs are baaad...

Director: Neil Burger
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Abbie Cornish
Certificate: 15
Duration: 105 minutes

The idea that we are sleepwalking through our lives, never fulfilling our true potential is a universal conceit and it is the intriguing premise on which techno-thriller Limitless is built. Based on the 2001 novel The Dark Fields by Alan Glynn, Limitless is stylistically speaking very sparky, but it doesn’t stop the film from suffering from being a generic thriller fused with elements of an equally conventional tale about the woes of drug use.   

Literally starting on top of the world, Eddie Mora (Bradley Cooper) stands on a balcony of his expensive apartment. Armed guards are attempting to break in and Eddie is thinking of jumping, but not before going back a couple of weeks to explain to us just how he got involved in such a precarious situation. Weeks earlier, Eddie is a struggling writer trying to come up with a first draft for his long gestating novel. Along with suffering two failed romances, he lives in a crumby apartment in New York and spends a lot of his time drinking the hours away in the nearest bar. After a chance meeting with an old acquaintance, Eddie is given a single pill of NZT-48, a new drug that supposedly increases brain activity and intelligence. Whilst the average human only uses 20% of his/her brain, this pill will allows you to have access all 100%.

With nothing to lose, Eddie takes the pill and immediately realizes he has access to the full power of his brain. He is able to finish his book in four days and learn foreign languages with ease. It isn’t long before he finds himself capable of calculating complex mathematics and algorithms which allows him to play the stock markets like a fiddle, making 2 million dollars in a week, which attracts the attention of powerful no nonsense businessman Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro). Eddie is set for a meteoric rise to power, but he isn’t the only one reaping the benefits of this miraculous new drug and there are of course others looking for their latest fix when supply is in big demand. All of which leads him to his predicament on deciding whether he will jump or not.  

Limitless masquerades as a techno-thriller with all its fast talk and snappy editing, but at its heart it is a parable about the dangers of drug abuse. It is essentially Trainspotting for the kind of people who attend stylish cocktail parties and talk in depth about the world’s problems to make themselves look better. The kind of affluent people I can only assume would be well used to snorting lines of coke off a stripper’s brassier. Incidentally these are the same kind of people who the movie assumes we normal folk aspire to being.

Like Trainspotting, the movie shows the highs and lows of drug use, though never quite as impactful, this isn’t a gritty movie in any sense. Director, Neil Burger injects a hyper kinetic visual flair to proceedings that feels very similar to the style of Danny Boyle as he relives Eddie's latent memories and depicts his burgeoning intelligence in a fashion which is reminscent of Ron Howard's The Beautiful Mind, though obviously on speed. Forever zooming shots down the streets of New York are used to convey the feeling of UNLIMITATION and are used far too much, as if the director has discovered fire for the first time.    

After playing Face in the A-Team remake and starring in The Hangover and its soon to be released sequel, Limitless gives Bradley Cooper his first starring role, a movie in which he also plays a producing role. I’ll be honest, whenever I see this kind of acting/producing situation I can’t help but shake pictures of Kevin Costner’s grotesquely inflated sense of heroism in Waterworld or The Postman. You’ll remember in Waterworld, the tirade the child gives to Dennis Hopper’s bad guy about how Costner’s mariner is coming to save him because that’s just the kind of hero he is, all inter spliced with Costner’s mariner infiltrating the bad guy’s base haplessly killing every henchmen he comes across with ruthless efficiency. Then you’ll remember in the Postman, when Costner is buoyed literally on by the whims and goodwill of a post apocalyptic American society, as he soars serenely in a wicker basket zipline construct. It was all a bit too much. Luckily, Bradley Cooper doesn’t undergo any comparable delusions of grandeur but he may be well on his way, as he out acts a sleep walking Robert De Niro.

In the movie’s opening, Cooper plays a struggling writer. Typical of a Hollywood movie, the only way to present this is by having Cooper dressed as a grungey pony tailed layabout, effectively representing the ugly duckling destined for transformation into the industry’s idea of perfection. Sure enough, as Eddie takes the drug he begins to sort himself out, he cleans his apartment, he gets a haircut and starts wearing suits, he begins to look more like Bradley Cooper which is clearly the film’s idea of unbridled LIMITLESS brilliance. 

There are many glaring plot holes throughout. Laughably, Eddie gains access to the pill via his ex brother in law, who used to peddle drugs before he gained a prominent position working for a pharmaceutical company. Just let that sentence ferment. Would you be so trusting of this kind of character who offers you a sample of an unknown pill? It doesn’t matter, no pill, no film and by taking the pill soon Eddie soon discovers that he is able to draw on countless memories, all information he has absorbed in his life time no matter how big or small. Just by looking at somebody, he is able to make powerful deductions on people in a manner that is pure Sherlock Holmes. He has such great power but does nothing of worth with them, which is perhaps the most frustrating thing about the movie.

I was left underwhelmed that the height of his character's potential was getting a haircut and dressing up in a slick suit to become a demon in the stock markets and a high flier in the world of corporate business. The character isn’t ruled by making the world a better place at all, just another corporate suit looking to help Robert De Niro’s Donald Trump character make a worthwhile merger with another bloodsucking corporate swine. I mean why doesn’t Eddie use his analytical powers to look into the third world deficit and conjure up bold new approaches to tackle real world problems so we don’t have David Tennant shouting at us demanding to give money to Comic Relief. I was left asking myself, what if Albert Einstein had taken this drug, would he look as slick? Would he be tidier? Would he be looking to work the stock markets as effectively as Bradley Cooper? Or would he still be utilizing science to help better mankind’s conception of the universe. The film would probably have you belief that Einstein, for all his genius was probably on NZT-48 as well. 

Robert De Niro could do with some NZT-48, when was the last time you saw him in a good movie?
The majority of people who watch a fair amount of movies will already have developed highly attuned sense of deduction when it comes to recognizing tropes and predicting how a movie is going to play out. The twists are so easy to see coming in Limitless, the audience may think they are on NZT-48 itself. There are so many cliches within this movie, so many times in which you as the audience are shouting at the screen, you could literally make a drinking game out of it. In one moment, Eddie realises that somebody has stolen his stash from a secret compartment in his jacket we shout “I told you, you shouldn’t have relinquished your jacket to the police, your enemies are smart enough to have spies everywhere!” 

As it happens you will constantly feel you are one step ahead when watching Limitless. Perhaps this is the point, to make you feel that you are smarter than Bradley Cooper’s character. A way to give film goers a chance to feel proud even when the film loses them at the cocktail parties and speeches about foreign policy. 

Limitless is a bog standard thriller that is high on visual panache and a likable performance from Bradley Cooper. As you leave the cinema it will leave you asking what you would do if you had 100% access to your brain. I can guarantee that whatever you may think of doing, it will be ten times more interesting than what happens in this movie.  

Very LIMITED indeed. 


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