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Limitless (2011)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 7/19/2011

All Ratings out of
Video: 1/2
Audio: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 7/31/2011

I took multiple film criticism and film analysis classes in college, so I've heard a lot about how to "read" movies. From deeper meaning to hidden messages to political & social subtext, I've seen movies examined and dissected eight ways to Sunday. But, after all of that, I've never really bought into the concept. Sure, some movies are allegories, but I think that most simply want to tell their story and get on with their lives. Having said that, there are some movies which seem to have a definite message. And then there are some like Limitless which seem to be delivering a bizarre message.

Bradley Cooper stars in Limitless Eddie Morra, a novelist who has gotten a contract to deliver his first novel, but the words won't come. Eddie, who looks like a homeless man, lives a pitiful life, and thus, his girlfriend, Lindy (Abbie Cornish). Walking home from this, Eddie runs into his ex-brother-in-law, Vernon (Johnny Whitworth), who offers him an experimental drug called NZT. Immediately after taking NZT, Eddie feels smarter and more focused. He finishes his novel in a matter of hours and delivers it to his publisher. While at a party, finances comes up and Eddie begins to spout theories. He then gets money from a loan shark and dabbles in day trading -- which quickly earns him millions and the attention of power broker Cal Van Loon (Robert De Niro). Eddie is on top of the world, but then the side effects begin and he realizes that NZT may be as dangerous as it is powerful.

Limitless is a rare hybrid film which takes a serious drama and adds a touch of science fiction which then turns it into a taut thriller. The movie begins as a seemingly typical story of a down-and-out writer who is at the end of his rope (although it does bring in the unique twist that he actually has a contract). From there, it could have been like any other movie we've seen where the desperate writer becomes a hustler of some sort. And it sort of does, but Limitless introduces the idea of the NZT wonder drug which suddenly makes Eddie a genius. From there, the movie goes in a new direction. Eddie does become a hustler, but in a socially acceptable way, as he turns into a financial wizard. This could have put Eddie on Easy Street, but instead, it puts a target on his back and everyone wants to know how he does what he does. With the loan shark and others on his tail, Eddie's new life becomes an insane one. And then the NZT side effects come into play, and Eddie realizes that he's out of control.

The script by Leslie Dixon (from a novel by Alan Glynn) deftly mixes these elements into a well-balanced mixture (although there are some plot-holes, which we'll get to in a moment). Limitless takes us on a ride through Eddie's life and we are there for the ups and downs. Eddie is an interesting character; he shouldn't be appealing, and yet, somehow, we want to see him succeed. Much of the credit for this goes to Bradley Cooper, who brings a mixture of charm, urgency, and humility to the role. Even when Eddie is on top, there is fear that he could lose it all at any minute and this creates a nice sense of suspense. Combine this with the fact that everyone is out to get Eddie and we have a nice thriller. The film is further enhanced by Neil Burger's direction. Clearly taking a cue from what David Fincher did in Fight Club, Burger isn't afraid to bring some surreal images into this otherwise straight-forward film.

Despite all of these good qualities, Limitless does get tripped up in the story department a few times. I don't want to give too much away, but the movie makes the mistake of setting the NZT-fueled Eddie up as a genius, but he can't seem to solve the most important problem which lies in front of him. He eventually hires someone else to do it, but this never set right with me and the plothole really hangs over the movie. Also, the movie never explains why Eddie the writer became Eddie the financial wizard (Note that I said "why", not "how") -- he could have just as easily pursued something within literature or entertainment and made just as much money and drawn just as much attention. A murder-mystery subplot is dropped into the movie, which never really pans out.

Still, Limitless is a thriller made from adults by adults and it works on many levels. The movie ostensibly asks, "What if a pill could make you smarter?", but what it's really saying is "What if a pill could solve your mid-life crisis?" And these leads us to the movie's weird message. Is it pro-drug or anti-drug? Both arguments could be made, as Eddie goes through some ups and downs thanks to NZT. But, the fact that a pro-drug argument could even be made makes Limitless an unusual film.

Limitless left me wondering why NZT is clear (more symbolism) on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 35 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source material. The colors look good, and the image is never overly dark or bright. The picture has a nice crispness to it, allowing for excellent depth and detail. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.7 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Thanks to the effects of NZT, Limitless is filled with intriguing sound effects which come from the front and rear channels. The surround sound works very well during the "time lapse" scenes and we hear things rushing from the front to the rear. The New York City street scenes offers nice stereo effects which are detailed. The action scenes, most notably gunfire, bring the subwoofer in to play.

The Limitless Blu-ray Disc contains only a few extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Neil Burger. "A Man Without Limits" (4 minutes) is a brief overview of the film which is punctuated by clips from the movie and comments from the cast and filmmakers. The piece quickly looks at the story and the costumes. "Taking it to the Limit: The Making of Limitless" (12 minutes) expands on the previous extra (the interviews all look the same) by taking a deeper look at the story. It also examines the production shooting in New York. It also looks at the stuntwork and the look of the film, as well as some of the visual effects. The "Alternate Ending" (5 minutes) is very similar to the theatrical ending, but with only minor detail which actually makes it less powerful. The final extra is the THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film.

Review Copyright 2011 by Mike Long