Retrospective: Limitless (2011)

It’s always nice to be surprised. In the case of Limitless the surprise was just how good it is. It was given to me as a present and it has a rather naff looking cover and one of the most formulaic sounding plots scrawled on the back. Actually, it’s an interesting movie about performance enhancing drugs which focuses on what happens when mental ability is boosted and the effect it has on this everyman, Eddie Mora (Bradley Copper), a writer of limited ability going through what could be considered a bad patch. He looks like a hobo (he even says so), he’s broke, suffering writer’s block and to compound his bad day, his girlfriend Lindy (Abby Cornish) decides to leave him. He is met by his ex-wife’s brother (Johnny Gant) who offers a nice convenient solution to his problem: a neat little wonder drug to boost mental capabilities. This is shown by changing the whole look of the movie, reminding me a bit of Se7en, with the use of fish eye lenses and skipping huge distances, while also showing the cost both mentally and physically it has on Mora. With his clever pills, Mora does what most people would do with it. He becomes rich and successful by playing on the stock market. This attracts him to the preposterously named Van Loon (Robert De Niro) and the drug dealer he has had to pay off who is a typically nasty Russian gangster.

Limitless plays with the idea that ‘just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean people aren’t out to get you’. In Eddie’s case it’s a mysterious figure following him everywhere and since he’s newly wealthy and influential, he has no shortage of people he thinks are out to get him. The insecurities of the characters are based around dependence on the drug and the nasty side effects it has on him. He soon realizes he isn’t the only one using the drug and it builds up really nicely into a couple of really great scenes.

The plot isn’t particularly strong as it’s reliant on a lot of good fortune and built on the slightly shaky foundations of this wonder drug as a plot point but it’s held together by Bradley Copper giving the character heart and providing a constant dialogue with the audience. He brings the audience along for the ride, as you see everything from his perspective. This is helped by how the films uses so many tricks in its filmmaking such as the fish eye lens, tinting filtering shots, post production lighting, graining, shaky cam, dolly shots, extreme close up shots, over and under exposure, colouration – it’s got pretty much everything I could recognise. It also has this rather nice sliver sheen in many of the shots, especially during the night. It has a rather cool look, along with pretty good music to go with it, which creates a real sense of place to what in many ways is a variant of the Science Fiction genre.

This movie is quite difficult to place. It’s neither a critically acclaimed indie movie, a moving foreign film or a blockbuster. One way to think about it is an AA movie, not a blockbuster but the sort of expensive movie which has been slowly dying out recently. This is a perfect example of this type of movie with a clever idea, interestingly shot and despite its big budget, it’s cleverer than the run of the mill action movie.

What makes this a movie worth watching is that it rather reminds me of the trashier Phillip K. Dick adaptations, in particular Total Recall and Paycheck, mainly because they show an action movie with a brain and heart. They all have completely unappealing initial impressions but when you get through that, what you find is a good, fun movie that actually makes you think.

Review by Harry Riedl

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