Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Limitless (2011) – Review

Limitless is a fun, slightly cheesy thriller that tells the tale of a man using his full potential (nobly and less so). Overall, the film works because it is playful with its material – inserting humor and fantasy into what could have been a straight thriller, however this does result in a schlocky feel to some of the scenes. Director Neil Burger likes to make his films interact with the viewer on a sensory level, creating a more visceral experience. Here he color corrects to make everything brighter, uses different lenses and long piercing zooms to create an experience for the audience of being on the NTZ drug at the center of the narrative. These aesthetic choices engage the audience, but are also a bit much at times – especially the long zooms through the city which potentially could make some people queasy. Though, on the other hand, it is nice to see a director take an active approach to the material and visually tell the story and experiences instead of the throwaway expositional dialogue explaining what the drug is like that many films use instead (this is a visual medium after all). The playful approach to the story makes the film fun and arguably better than it would have been without it, but conversely it does take away from the thriller aspect of the film. The tone is not dark enough to suggest that the characters are actually in any real danger (even though at times they are) so the audience never feels strong tension and anxiety, which are the key ingredients to a good thriller. But this narrative needs the humor and light tone for the audience to connect with the lead character, Eddie Morra – so it is a little bit of a give and take. The nature of the fantasy – having a special gift allowing you to be better and get what you want – is fairly universal and something a lot of potential viewers can relate to and have probably imagined which also brings them into the story. The real issue with it is the film feeling one way, but the story playing out another (as there are genre conflictions in the tone and what is actually happening). However, Burger does a good job handling the story which has these conflictions built in. There is, though, one lingering question that I am not sure the film addressed – in a world where quite a few have access to this drug, what makes our protagonist special? It is does not really explain how he was able to persevere and evolve while others did not seem to, especially when this mystery drug is made by a pharmaceutical company and thus likely available in somewhat of a unlimited supply to those with connections and money, let alone the scientists who are developing it (or were Morra’s pills the last and they lost the recipe?). But that question aside, Limitless is an entertaining film with good action scenes, characters and a fun idea.

Technical and acting achievements: Neil Burger has now made four films (I think his best is The Illusionist). He seems to like to tackle difficult stories, but has shown that he consistently makes good films. His visual storytelling talent and style make him a director worth continuing to follow. I liked a number of the sets and locations used in the film, particularly production designer Patrizia von Brandenstein’s set for Morra’s fortress apartment. Jo Willems’s cinematography is cool as he takes advantage of Burger’s need to visually express the reaction of the drug to the characters’ senses. The score by Paul Leonard-Morgan and Nico Muhly works well with the tone of the film, hitting the action/thriller notes as well as feeling lighter and more fun. The story was very central to Eddie Morra, the main supporting characters not really having a lot of character development or dramatic work – but that being said, the cast was good. Anna Friel is great in her cameo (for a good looking woman, she sure pulled off the decrepit look well, a gimpy limp included), while Andrew Howard’s Russian loan shark thug was really funny. Abbie Cornish is quite good in the ‘girlfriend to the lead’ role, bringing enough emotion to standout, and Robert De Niro is also good as a powerful businessman, but he has had tons of better roles with more for him to do. Bradley Cooper is in pretty much every scene and has almost all the dramatic work to do, and does so well. He proves with this film that he is ready and capable to be a leading man in Hollywood.

Limitless is fun and entertaining, but not a great thriller. 7/10

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