Locked inside all of our heads is a carousel of misplaced and half forgotten memories, experiences, skills, and knowledge. If we could somehow tap into it all, somehow increase our perception, reaction time, and our ability to take in and synthesize information, if we could somehow utilize our minds to their absolute full potential, what would that mean? What would we become, what would we choose to do, and how would it change us? These are all some of the thought provoking questions that Neil Burger's 'Limitless' asks, but unfortunately, despite the cool concepts at work and some inventive stylistic flourishes, the answers provided are disappointingly conventional, and in many ways, just plain stupid.
The plot revolves around a struggling writer named Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) who can't seem to overcome a bad case of writer's block. When an old friend introduces him to a new miracle drug called NZT, which claims to boost our mental faculties to their full potential, Eddie unleashes the vast power of his own unrestrained mind, and quickly uses his new skills to increase his wealth, influence, and power. Though things seem great for a while, the drug has some negative side effects, and soon Eddie starts to lose track of time, gaining large gaps in his days. On top of that, it seems he isn't the only one who knows about the miraculous NZT, putting him in the cross-hairs of some very unsavory characters who will stop at nothing to get a few pills for themselves. What follows is a sometimes entertaining and occasionally exciting thriller that can't quite rise above some mediocre elements in its script.
Based on the novel 'The Dark Fields,' the main concept fueling the screenplay has definite merit (though in some ways NZT just seems like souped-up Adderall), but the script fails to follow through with that potential. While Eddie's meteoric transformation from pathetic failure, to wealthy playboy success is fun to watch, the character is never particularly sympathetic, charming, or compelling in either state. Cooper does a decent job in the role, but his motivations lack development, and he simply comes across as a weak protagonist. The script successfully showcases a few interesting uses of the drug's positive effects but can't really sustain the necessary intelligence behind its own premise. On the drug, Eddie needs to come across as the absolute peak mental specimen, but the screenplay isn’t nearly as clever as it needs to be. Sure, some of the character's quick thinking is creative, but other supposedly genius decisions and actions come across as silly (the ice-skate incident being a perfect example).
The structure of the plot is also extremely by-the-numbers, with a basic and predictable thriller formula guiding the story. The movie tries to be an interesting Faustian examination of selling one's soul for power, but this theme is only marginally examined, and the script seems to only be scratching the surface of its potentially deeper aspects. An annoying voice over narration attempts to plant us firmly into the mindset of Eddie, but it ends up being mostly superfluous and irritating. Also, Robert De Niro's character really isn't much of a factor here, having very little influence on the main plot. The ending of the movie attempts to integrate him more fully into the overarching story, but this conclusion instead comes across as extremely forced, contrived, and just sort of dumb.
Despite my many issues with the script, director Neil Burger does a fantastic job of creating an exciting, kinetic, visual experience. The filmmaker experiments with a variety of film stocks, lenses, and computerized effects to create some dazzling sequences, which fully illustrate the effects of NZT in a cinematically creative manner. As Eddie's cognitive skills go into overdrive, the images on screen become a hyper-real, oversaturated playground of techniques. A cool, wraparound 360 degree view evokes the character's newfound perception, and a mind bending "infinite zoom," which sees the camera go into an endless rush of fractal transitions through the streets of New York, is a treat for the eyes. As the negative effects of the drug come into play, Burger uses fast forwarding, fragmented imagery to embellish the character's gaps in time. Though the director can get a little overzealous in some sequences, the majority of his stylistic choices effectively and creatively elevate the material in an exciting and intelligent manner.
'Limitless' has some definite entertainment value, but the script lacks depth, and though the concepts are interesting, the plotting itself is unoriginal and bland. Ultimately, with its unsuccessful attempt at a thought provoking, ambiguous conclusion, the film has very little to say. Still, Burger's directing choices do bring some thrills, and while not anywhere near as good as it could have been, 'Limitless' is worth a look.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
20th Century Fox presents 'Limitless' in a Blu-ray/Digital Copy combo pack. The BD-50, region A disc and digital copy are housed in a standard case with a cardboard slipcover. An extended cut of the film is also included which features less than a minute of additional unrated material. Some skippable trailers play upon startup before transitioning to a standard motion menu.
The movie is provided with a 1080p/AVC transfer in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio. The film has a highly stylized and shifting look which is handled well with strong technical proficiency.
The source is pristine with some light grain periodically visible. The picture has a sharp to look to it, but as a result of some of the intentionally stylized, hyper-real filters, fine detail can sometimes be lost in a slightly air brushed appearance. Dimensionality is strong, however, and many scenes exhibit some pleasing depth. Colors vary depending on the state of mind of the main character, oscillating between drab, blue-gray hues and over-saturated explosions of high intensity color, which pop right off the screen. Black levels are nice and inky and contrast is strong, but again sways between being subdued and blown out depending on whether Eddie is using or not.
'Limitless' offers a strong but not always pleasing video presentation, that respectfully serves the filmmaker's deliberate and sometimes creative cinematic manipulations.
The film is presented in an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track along with a French Dolby Digital 5.1 track, and optional English SDH, Spanish, and French subtitles. Like the visuals, the movie features some energetic and creative design that sounds fantastic on Blu-ray.
Dialogue is full and clear. The soundstage as a whole is wide and immersive, with lots of lively effects circling the listener. Directionality and imaging are strong without being gimmicky and surrounds are enveloping. Eddie's drug use provides some cool sonic sequences. The first time he takes the drug is a great showcase of the film's aural strengths, placing us right in the mindset of the character by focusing on isolated sounds, like a spinning bike wheel, all to great artistic effect. Bass is deep and powerful and dynamic range gives nice breathing room to a full gamut of frequencies. Balance in the mix is also well done.
The audio track is great, providing a fun, exciting, and artistically strong aural presentation.
Supplements are decent, but nothing to get excited about, with an alternate ending, commentary, and some featurettes. All of the special features are presented in 1080p with Dolby Digital audio and no subtitle options.
'Limitless' is a pretty average example of style over substance, with a mediocre script but exciting visuals. The video transfer does a good job handling the film's shifting styles, and the audio track provides a great, immersive experience. Supplements are a little lacking, but this is still a good disc for a middle-of-the-road film. It may not reach the potential the premise displayed (perhaps the script itself could have used some NZT), but it's certainly worth a look.