Sunday, August 21, 2011

Limitless (2011)

Although I enjoyed the reconstruction of London After Midnight and two new Wilfred episodes, I only got around to watching one movie this week. To make up for that I wrote more about this movie than I normally would for one film in the weekly wrap-up. Enjoy!


Limitless (2011) is about a struggling writer, Eddie, who discovers a secret drug which gives him enhanced concentration, memory, and intelligence. I had seen the previews and advertisements for Limitless over the course of several months for both its theatrical and Blu-ray/DVD releases, but just didn't have a desire to see it. The movie looked predictable and gave me a feeling of "been there, done that" as to where the story would go. Although I didn't seek it out, I wasn't actively avoiding it either. However, my Dad heard it was good and wanted to see it so I watched it with him hoping the trailers and TV spots were misleading. Limitless is the 7th movie made in 2011 that I have seen so far.

I'll start with what I liked about the movie. I was impressed with the directing and camera work. The film's stylish visuals do a great job of showing how Eddie sees the world after he takes the drug, as well as depicting the drug's bad side-effects like short term memory loss. The zoom camera effect of these flash forwards was stunning. The director of Limitless is Neil Burger, the same guy who directed The Illusionist (2006) which starred Ed Norton. Although The Prestige overshadowed that film since they came out the same year and were period pieces about magicians, I enjoyed both movies. I do admit that I liked Nolan's The Prestige better, but both were solid films by young directors. Limitless is only Burger's fourth film and his next project is set to be a movie adaptation of the video game Uncharted: Drake's Fortune.

I felt the acting was good in Limitless. Nobody really stood out but there were no noticeably poor performances either. Bradley Cooper did a fine job as the lead even though his role was originally supposed to go to Shia LeBeouf before he got into a car accident! Bradley Cooper was able to carry the movie, as well as help sell it to the masses, so I think we'll see The Hangover star in more leading roles. Abbie Cornish had limited screen time but was enjoyable as Eddie's girlfriend. I'm not sure why Robert De Niro chose to be in this movie as I imagine he receives a lot of offers and can probably handpick his projects. That said, De Niro was fun to watch as a Wall Street fat cat and even though he no longer in his prime, his screen presence was great as usual.

The biggest issue I had with Limitless was that I felt "50 steps ahead" like main character as the plot was too predictable. One bad guy was set up so obviously as a villain that I thought it had to be a red herring and he was actually a good guy trying to track down and help Eddie. I was wrong because I didn't think it could be that obvious! The story didn't bring anything new to the table, as its a typical new found power/gift tale that has been done in everything from non-fiction celebrity biographies to superhero comics. A guy gets a power which leads a positive change in his life. However, it turns out to have some bad consequences, and he must get out of the mess by learning to live with it or getting rid of it. This is an old plot which has been done over and over again, and this story doesn't really bring much new to the table which makes it seem like the writer got lazy. I felt like the movie was going to have a deeper message, shocking twist ending, or tell us about the origin of the drug but none of those things happened.

Several basic questions were left unanswered like: Who exactly killed his ex-brother-in-law? Who made the drug? Why did they make the drug? If everyone had access to a drug that essentially gives super powers then nobody would be able to gain an edge on anybody as it would be an even playing field. Maybe the drug's creation was accident but if that was the case maybe it would have made more sense to have its creator be the main character.
The film clearly has writing issues, which is a shame since it could have been much better if the writer took some risks. The screenwriter of Limitless is Leslie Dixon, the writer who gave us turds like Look Who's Talking Now and the 2007 remake The Heartbreak Kid. Neil Burger has directed four films so far, and this is the only one that he didn't write the screenplay for. I guess that explains everything! To be completely fair to Dixon there were some clever things like how Eddie improvises when he needs to get his drug and the Russian gangster who funds Eddie at first. Even though the movie's plot is derivative and the writing is mediocre, it is still a well-made thriller thanks to Burger's directing. I would like to see more movies by this director as long as he keeps writing his own material or works with another writer. I've only seen two of Burger's films, but really liked what I have seen. Neil Burger (pictured below) is an up and coming director to keep an eye on.

Limitless is based on the premise that
"we only use 20% of our brains" but that the miracle drug in the film can unlock our brain's full potential. Obviously this is an old false urban legend, but it didn't really bother me since I knew it was a Sci-fi thriller from the beginning. I have no problem when a film makes up its own rules contrary to the real world, as long as it never breaks its own rules. Limitless had some writing problems but did follow the rules it set up.

Limitless is based on the novel The Dark Fields by Alan Glynn. Apparently the film is close enough to the book, although I have heard there are some key differences such the ending. The back of the Blu-ray for the Limitless claims that the alternate ending included in the special features "changes everything," but it turns out that ending is actually very close to the original movie ending. I still liked the original movie ending better just because it showed you what the other one simply told you. The film looked great on Blu-ray, but to be fair I haven't seen a recent release that looked bad on Blu-ray! I saw the unrated extended cut of Limitless which is basically the way it was intended to be seen. However, that version would have gotten an R rating from the MPAA, so the studio cut it to get a PG-13 rating to make more money. Although I hate this tactic, the ploy worked as Limitless was a surprise box office hit. The film had a budget of $27 million but went on to make $80 million in the US and $155 million worldwide. While I didn't love Limitless, I did like it and I'm glad I saw it. It's refreshing to see a lower budget movie that is not a romantic comedy and competently made perform well in theaters. Take that Transformers and Smurfs!

Score: 6/10


  1. Great review! You're really coming into your own as a blogger. You're definitely developing your own critical voice, as well.

  2. Thanks for the feedback and compliments Nate!