“Limitless” is a film that strikes me as being ironically limited by a concept that doesn’t hold up if you think about it too much.
What if you could take a pill that would allow you to use 100 percent of your brain? According to screenwriter Leslie Dixon, who based her script on an Alan Glynn novel, you would become suddenly brilliant–the assumption being that a boost in brain functionality is the same thing as an increase in brain power and intelligence. I’m not so sure. Are we to infer that all the stupid people in the world merely have brains that aren’t using enough cells, while somebody like Stephen Hawking is running at 90 percent capacity? Maybe, but a Volkswagen firing on all cylinders isn’t the same thing as a Jaguar running on all cylinders. Intelligence is still a genetic predisposition, after all; other factors are involved.
The second big assumption behind “Limitless” is that with an increase in the percentage of the brain that’s being used, long-term memory storage and retrieval would become instantaneous. Everyone taking this pill would have, in effect, a photographic memory to draw upon, which would enable them to problem-solve like modern-day Da Vincis. I think I’m more willing to believe this part, but only if the first assumption is true. If you’re not reading and researching and studying and putting things into your brain, there’s nothing of substance to remember, is there? Still, the idea is certainly interesting, and Dixon’s plot can serve as a parable or metaphor for a number of things.
“Limitless” stars Bradley Cooper as Eddie Morra, who, after years of struggling to become a writer, develops the world’s biggest case of writer’s block after he finally gets a contract to produce a book. Naturally his verbal constipation depresses him, and he does what most writers do: he drinks. By coincidence, he runs into an ex-brother-in-law who turns him on to a top-secret ultimate drug that sells for something like $800 a pop. In a matter of days he’s able to write a brilliant book, and becomes positively addicted by the high of feeling so brilliant. Unfortunately, the effects wear off. At that price, you’d think it’d be good for at least a year . . . or that there’d be no adverse side effects.
But of course there are consequences for taking the drug, or else “Limitless” would be little more than a commercial for drug use. Eddie experiences all sorts of complications: physical side effects, problems with his ex-bro supplier, a run-in with a loan shark who also hooked up with some of this Genius Juice and is after more, and the pressing need to convince everyone–including an ex (Abby Cornish) who dumped him and is suddenly interested again and a wealthy businessman who hired him–that the new-and-improved Eddie is the real thing. The new-and-improved Eddie can tell what business fortunes will rise and fall, which makes him a boy wonder, and he can also converse in just about any language because it’s so easy for him to pick up.
Cooper does a nice job with the juggling act, convincingly playing both the supercharged Eddie and the desperate one trying to deal with drug withdrawal, bad guys, scary symptoms, and a growing mystery that involves other people who’ve apparently taken the drug. But De Niro doesn’t seem to have enough to do, and neither does Cornish. Under the direction of Neil Burger (“The Illusionist,” “Interview with the Assassin”) the plot zig-zags along, dodging opportunities to slow down so readers can learn a little more about either Eddie and his relationships. In this respect, “Limitless” is structured like the typical conspiracy thriller, with very few detours. In fact, one surprising sideplot involving a murder investigation is so quickly glossed over that it feels severely underdeveloped.
I’ll say this, though. “Limitless” holds your attention for the whole 105 minutes, and partly that’s because of Burger’s visual style, opting for point-of-view camerawork that shows us Eddie’s inner state of mind, high or not, and the implied effects that the drug is having on him. “Limitless” is also not as predictable as you’d imagine, and the premise is unique enough to where you’re willing to overlook a lot of things . . . including logic and a flawed ending.
This Blu-ray contains both the Unrated and Theatrical versions of “Limitless,” with the latter rated PG-13 for thematic material involving a drug, violence including disturbing images, sexuality, and language. I didn’t notice anything different in the unrated version except for a few more F-bombs that I believe were recorded differently for the PG-13 version, and the unrated version is only a minute longer.
“Limitless” comes to 50GB Blu-ray disc via an AVC/MPEG-4 transfer that looks terrific, no matter what visual design Burger imposes upon it. Presented in 2.40:1 aspect ratio, “Limitless” features strong black levels and an impressive amount of detail, whether colors are bright and fully saturated to show Eddie’s enhanced perception of the world, or slightly industrial-looking or drab to signify his “down” moments. I saw no compression artifacts, and have no complaints whatsoever. It’s a stunning film in HD.
The featured audio (big surprise) is the industry-standard English DTS-HD MA 5.1, but the audio isn’t standard at all. It’s a dynamic soundtrack that makes ample use of the rear effects speakers and drives the sound away from the speakers across the sound field with unforced ease. Ambient sounds abound, and yet the dialogue is nicely prioritized so that we don’t miss out on anything. French Dolby Digital 5.1 is the additional audio option, with subtitles in English SDH, French, and Spanish.
The “Limitless” Blu-ray comes with a Digital Copy (on a separate DVD), but the other bonus features are, well, limited. Apart from a standard director’s commentary (that’s available on both the theatrical and unrated versions), the longest bonus feature–a standard making-of feature with cast-crew interviews–clocks in at a little over 11 minutes. After that, there’s an alternate ending (5 min.) that’s distinctive mostly by what it omits, a four-minute “A Man without Limits” feature cut with interview clips with the same backgrounds as the making-of feature (which means they’re probably outtakes), and the theatrical trailer.
I wasn’t sure what to expect with “Limitless,” but it’s an enjoyable film that tries to move beyond the standard thriller in order to say a few things about drugs, people, power, and, of course, being careful what you wish for.