johnlink ranks LIMITLESS (2011)

I’ve heard good things about this unique film which involves a scrubby writer (Bradley Cooper) starting a new medication which allows him to use the full capacity of his brain. That’s a solid premise, but also one which could devolve fairly quickly if not handled well. Plus it has Robert DeNiro who, while still a great actor, needs to fire his agent and hire someone who will do a better job of helping him select his movies.

I watched LIMITLESS (2011) on 5.26.12. It was my first viewing of the film.

Neil Burger really directs the hell out of this movie. Sometimes a movie which looks and sounds the way this one does, can feel over-manipulated. Yes, LIMITLESS is very obviously a movie. Many devices which can be used to allow the viewer to fall into the narrative are purposely ignored. The constant voice-over by Cooper’s Eddie Morra is one such example, certainly not aided by the fact that the voice over sounds almost nothing like the speech pattern of the character. The inclusion of non-diegetic images layered over the shot film is another, and is used to demonstrate, say, the numbers running through Eddie’s head as he analyzes the stock market, or the letters and words flowing easily as he writes his novel (pictured above). But the best directorial choice involves the use of light and color filters. The world is a cold blue when Eddie is not taking his new medication, but turns bright and vivid when he does.

The representation of those high on the drug, NZT, certainly glorifies its use. We see the obvious advantages of heightened brain activity from using it. And while we see what happens to those who get off it, namely headaches, severe nausea, and death, Eddie (for some reason) is the only one who seems able to learn that eating, sleeping, and avoiding alcohol, all while tapering off the drug, will allow you to ease off without a problem. A suspect concept to be sure.

In fact, I’m still not sure if this script is brilliant or stupid. There are many things, a murder for one, which are used as plot devices but later ignored. Or more simply, it is never made clear if Eddie murdered the girl in the hotel room or not. He doesn’t explain, he doesn’t remember, and it could have been him. Because there are people following him, it is safe and easy to assume that he did not kill her. But space is left for interpretation, and the film doesn’t care to answer. Looming larger, however, is the ultimate question of whether or not we can take Eddie at his word when the film is wrapping up. Is he really off the drug? Much of the film is about manipulation and the increased ability to out-think others. If put in the conundrum he ultimately is put into at the end, the goal would be to make everyone think you have stopped taking it.  I still don’t know. If I believe what the characters tell me, this is a pretty standard film. If I choose to look at it as deceptive, then the added layer is something to appreciate. So, yep. I’m going to go with the more interesting reading. He killed the girl, and he’s still on his designer drug.

But, when analyzing the script, there is the fact that Eddie always has the drug around, except at the exact moments when it would be bad not too. This also includes not having one for the biggest meeting of his life, and then suddenly having one more, which he apparently found somewhere, soon thereafter. And on two separate occasions he drops the ‘last pill’ at an inopportune time. So any argument one might make that the script is little more than a parable tale, with complete disregard for thematic maturity or avoiding cliches, would certainly hold water with me.

I just wrote about the remake of ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 and how the post-production work hurt the film with things like failed continuity and logic maintenance. I don’t think that is the case for LIMITLESS. I think it intentionally drives forward, at times with little regard for logic. Why, for example, doesn’t Eddie just learn how to make the drug himself if he can learn to do anything? That seems like the most obvious and easy thing to do. Also, why doesn’t he pay the loan shark earlier? He has the money, and being on the drug should allow him to see the consequences of not paying it off right away. But for its oversights, LIMITLESS raises questions at least, even if it could have raised more.

The scenes with DeNiro are well done. Playing a self-built financial mogul who mentors Eddie is a good role for him. Cooper is solid in this, even if I think they did a terrible job matching his voice-over to his performance. It is also dubious to me to have a character provide voice-over when the story he tells is a story he wants nobody to know. It makes the voice-over an information device rather than utilizing it to create more depth to the story and to the central character.

Certainly, the most interesting thing about this movie is its morality. Drug dealers end up dead, drug addicts end up ruined. Unless, of course, you’re smart enough to manipulate the system. The question of ‘can you get away with murder’ is much more important than ‘did you commit murder?’ The idea that the game can be rigged in your favor, that a drug can make you smarter than everyone else playing, is handled as a perfectly acceptable idea (this movie can certainly be seen a as a parallel for the use of performance enhancing drugs in major sports). Eddie ends up back with his girl, the only moral compass he has, who suddenly becomes satisfied with the ends, even if she despised the means. Because Bradley Cooper does a genuinely good job in the opening scenes of making us believe he loves this girl, and because he is so morally loose through the rest of the film, would it be a surprise that he is lying about his continued drug use mainly because he wants to keep her in his life?

This may not be a great film, but it is a really good one. It is entirely possible that I am giving it too much credit, but all I can do is go with what I think, and I think this movie knows what it is doing. I’m giving it a high score for writing despite the fact that I honestly feel I could give it a terribly low score if I choose to read the film another way. But, I suppose, because that question looms… well I have to give it credit, right?

SCORES

FILM: 6; MOVIE: 8; ACTING: 6; WRITING: 7

6+8+6+7+0=27

FINAL SCORE: 6.75

 

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~ by johnlink00 on May 27, 2012.

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