Saturday, March 19, 2011

Limitless Has Its Limits

Limitless - Poster | A Constantly Racing Mind

There Are No Safeguards in Human Nature

W hat would you do if you had a magic pill that made you a 100 times smarter? Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro show us how to evade killer henchmen, and murderous loan sharks in 'Limitless.'  Would you use this drug wisely or squander it?

"Limitless" is one of those films that you come away from feeling like you just took the best acid trip of your life. Bradley Cooper stars as writer Eddie Morra, a Generation Xer, whose life showed promise while in college, but has basically gone nowhere since. He lacks the creative spark that we all know exists within us, but is buried so deep that very few of us can access it. The hope that director Neil Burger ("The Illusionist") tempts us with, as Eddie is tempted with, is that magic something that would unleash that spark. In this case, like the drug Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) of 60's and 70's, Eddie is hoping his mind will open and with a new vision of reality he can see his future and write his book. Robert De Niro stars as Carl Van Loon, a big shot businessman who plays Eddies mentor, employer and nemesis. Abbie Cornish ("Sucker Punch") plays Eddie's love interest who works at the publishing company where Eddie has his book contract. Limitless is about a new drug that could potentially help humanity, but ultimately the film is about drug addiction, the dangers involved, depression, and most of all, the rush and the thrill. Limitless is rated PG-13 and runs about an hour and forty-five minutes. 

"Limitless" starts off with a cliffhanger, literally. Standing on the balcony of his high-rise fortress of solitude, Eddie is narrating the circumstances of his predicament. Eddie has the wolves banging at the door, desperate, not wanting to die a slow torturous death at the hands of a loan shark, he is about to end his life. Not much of a film if he jumps, so instead we flashback about a year earlier... Looking somewhat like a drug addict, Eddie is a writer with a bad case of writer's block. He has an advance from a publishing company and no book, not even one word, to show for it, and Lindy (Cornish) his girlfriend, ceremoniously dumped him. At the nadir in his life, Eddie has a chance meeting with his ex-brother-in-law, Vernon (Johnny Whitworth). Eddy was married to Vernon's sister Melissa, right out of college for about four months. Eddie knows Vernon once was a drug dealer, and although Vernon assures him he is not, while at lunch, he gives Eddie a free sample. Telling Eddie that what he has now is a miracle drug that will help with his creativity. The free sample is of a "FDA approved pharmaceutical called NZT, but yet doesn't have a street name. Eddie pocket the pills as he is trying to stay clear so he can write his book, Eddy heads home to his crappy little New York apartment with its multiple door locks and filthy dishes, and junk all over the floor. However he doesn't make it to the door, as his landlord's young cute wife happens to be there and is ready to bitch him out about the rent. So finding he has nothing to lose, he pops the pill and about thirty seconds later, the pill kicks in and he starts making connections, the girls text book, she is going to law school, the subject of her paper, suggestions for a better paper, etc. All this stimulation to his synapses is shown with CSI like visuals, and here is where Burger wants us to make the connection that knowledge can get us brainy guys, you guess it, sex. This is only the first of many situations that show us that being smarter will somehow get you laid. Knowledge like anything in this world is a tool, and the question comes to mind, what would we do with such a power. Would we get rich with it, help others; hurt others; would we work to make this world better?
Limitless - Bradley Cooper | A Constantly Racing Mind
Trying to encapsulate the ideas in Alan Glynn's novel, The Dark Fields, onto the big screen, Burger resorts to having Cooper narrate many main points that he wants us to remember. The narration both helps and hurts at times. The rule in filmmaking is show, don't tell. This is a visual medium, however, there is just so much material crammed into this film that it is actually draining at times. Realizing that NZT is like Adderall for normal people, Eddie finds that now he can focus and prioritize his life better than he could ever have before. Burger uses mind altering camera effects to show Eddie essentially being in many places as one time, while he picks up the pig-sty of an apartment. He sits down and writes out several chapters of his book, delivers it to his slack jawed publisher, all in a space of a day. What becomes apparent quite quickly is that without taking the drug on a constant basis, that clarity, the ability to focus, the sense of urgency, that Eddie experiences when he took NZT, is gone. Like a junkie who needs a fix Eddie goes to Vernon's apartment. Finding Vernon a little worse for wear, Vernon sends Eddie on some errands. When he returns, finds Vernon dead. Shot in both the chest and in the head, Eddie realizes that whoever killed Vernon was after the drug. He calls the cops and then searches for the pills,
From here on out, "Limitless" takes on most aspects of a thriller, not only is he followed by the man in the Tan Coat, Unwisely, Eddie makes a deal with an Eastern European loan shark for a hundred grand. Coming out of nowhere, Eddy makes a small fortune, meets some really nice upper crust friends, gets a new wardrobe, cuts his hair, and goes to town. Knowledge is power. Using his limited supply of NZT, he sets out to take the small amount of cash of about eight hundred dollars into a small fortune by playing the stock market, and using math to win at Black Jack. Eddie gets noticed by one of the biggest badass businessman in New York, Carl Van Loon (De Niro). Not the type to take no for an answer, De Niro plays Van Loon like, uh, De Niro. Pressing Eddie to review some investment options, Eddie filters through all the data to see connections, between crap investments and some more lucrative possibilities that are buried deep in the portfolio. Scenes like this will actually cause the audiences eyes to glaze over, but it's the concept that matters. Human beings retain all that they hear, and all that they see, however, the problem is in recalling all that information as needed. Remembering the name of a song an hour later or a day later doesn't help you if you are trying to win a radio station contest for a prize.
Limitless - Bradley Cooper  & Abbie Cornish | A Constantly Racing Mind

Speaking of concepts, the idea of a smart drug is not new. Flowers for Algernon and the 1968 movie adaptation, "Charly" take on the subject with both positive but ultimately disastrous events. In the 1999 film, Deep Blue Sea, the search for an Alzheimer's cure leads to death by shark. Essentially, humans need the synapses in our brains to fire consistently, continually, and the ability to make new synaptic links. NZT creates these temporary links but as Eddie finds out, not only do you lose your ability to focus and recall information on a whim, but your brain actually deteriorates without it. Meeting up with his ex-wife Melissa, he sees a woman who let NZT suck the life out of her. She warns Eddie about it, informing him that he should wean himself off of it slowly. As the movie progresses, you will start noticing in other characters the signs of NZT addiction. You will start suspecting everybody, however, Burger, and producer Cooper will leave you with an interesting twist.
Bradley Cooper plays all version of Eddie Morra well. From the loser at the beginning, the successful but addicted Eddie, the desperate and depraved Eddie, and finally the completely changed Eddie that the film leaves us with. The question I have is without Cooper's good looks, but with his increased mental prowess, would he still score all the women that the film depicts? Abbie Cornish's Lindy seems a bit shallow, she dumps Eddie, but once he gets smart, she's back in his arms and in his bed. Robert De Niro plays Van Loon like Jimmy Conway from "Goodfellas." Andrew Howard plays the Eastern European mob character Gennady, and does so with gusto. 
Limitless is chalk full of special effects that Neil Burger uses to get our attention and trip us out with. Thank God the film is not in 3D as I think I would have puked. Images go on forever, space bends, and there is actually a very cool Matrix/Bourne fight scene. Drugs, like a viral video on YouTube get around. It doesn't seem to matter if the drug is legal or not, if people want it, they will get it. Is this another social commentary that is being pointed out to us? Another thing this film does, is that it encourages me to attempt learning a new language, or read Brian Greene's Elegant Universe and understand string theory. Not going to happen, but in the moment it seems achievable. Limitless also points out to us very clearly, is that we are actually only pale reflections of our true selves. The ability to use more than the 20% of our brains that we currently limited to, seems like a worthy aspiration doesn't it? What Limitless does show that there is a cost to letting the Genie out of the bottle? For some, they pay with their lives; some deteriorate physically, while others sink into the depths of depravity.
Although there is a lot to like about Limitless, there are a few things I didn't care for. The fact that, like "Underdog" we need to pop a pill in order to get out of jams. This seems just a bit too handy for the writers, sort of a Deus ex machina. Libby is told, by Eddie as she is chased through Central Park, that all she has to do is pop one of those clear, round NZT tablet, and all her problems are solved. Where is the work, the safeguards? As Eddie points out in the film - "There are no safeguards in human nature." A few people get killed in Limitless; however, these murders seem to clean themselves up a bit too neatly. Take Vernon's murder for example, although it was Eddie who called the police, he did have the NZT on him, yet the cops failed to at least pat him down. Or a girl, who Eddie was with before she was killed, seems to fade away without further mention. The film does point out, or at least infers to the theme that intelligence is not a substitute for wisdom, and this film points out some pretty unwise moves that the characters make. Far from being perfect, "Limitless" is worth a matinee showing, or for the thrill seekers it is a decent date film. I would definitely watch it again when it comes out on DVD or Blu-ray.
Movie Data
Genre: Mystery, Sci-Fi, Thriller
Year:  2011
Staring: Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Abbie Cornish, Andrew Howard, Johnny Whitworth
Director: James Gunn
Producer(s): Leslie Dixon, Ryan Kavanaugh, Scott Kroopf
Writer: Leslie Dixon, Alan Glynn (novel)
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 105 minutes
Release Date:  3/18/2011
First posted on Associated Content/Yahoo Voices on 3/19/2011