Limitless (US - BD RA)
Gabe starts a pile of late arrivals with this stronger than expected sci-fi thriller...
Failed author Eddie Morra’s (Bradley Cooper) mundane life is in tatters when his girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish) refuses his proposal of marriage, and dumps him for his lack of focus. Soon after, while aimlessly wandering New York streets, Eddie runs into his ex-wife’s brother, Vernon (Johnny Whitworth), who takes pity on his former in-law and offers him a sample of a new nootropic drug called NZT-48. Eddie takes the pill, and finds utter clarity, along with the ability to access all of his brain’s abilities. Finally able to break through his writer’s block, Eddie goes back to Vernon for more NZT-48, and finds him dead, and his apartment trashed. Fortunately for him, the attackers didn’t find the stash, and he now has enough super-brain drugs to last him a very long time.
High concept motion pictures usually have a stunningly negative effect on my sense of assumption. Usually high concept becomes an excuse for low plotting, and so many good ideas (vampires that journey to Alaska to take advantage of the night, an excess of snakes are released on a passenger plane, an average couple is mistaken for drug dealers after stealing a reservation at a fancy restaurant) are laid to waste through boring, messy and/or predictable movies ( 30 Days of Night, Snakes on a Plane, Date Night). The high concept, single sentence plot synopsis quality of Limitless kept me away during the film’s relatively lucrative theatrical run, but this ‘forced’ viewing for review has proved my instincts slightly off base. The basic story is a bit of a disappointment, yes, and goes unsurprising places most of us could’ve guessed based on the lackluster trailers (which give away way too much), but the storytelling remains well structured, and the dialogue relatively snappy. Some of the one-liners and Eddie’s narration elicit a groan, but relatively speaking, Limitless is pretty well put together. This is especially shocking given a glance at screenwriter Leslie Dixon’s imdb page, which is slathered in lowest common denominator filth. The quality of the story may just be the effect of the strength of Alan Glynn’s original novel The Dark Fields, which I haven’t read, but nonetheless the adaptation is strong, despite the scope and scale of the story getting away from Dixon on a few occasions – it feels a little long, like it might have made a better one or two season TV series, and certain plot threads are not completed.
Assuming you aren’t bothered by the sudden influx of hackneyed ‘how did I get here’ narration (definitely a strike against the screenplay I just finished praising), you’ll likely find yourself immediately struck by director Neil Burger’s aggressive David Fincher meets Sidney Lumet visual style. The open credits take us on a CG enhanced, Fight Club-inspired trip down a building and through a series of vehicle windows, and into the human brain (kind of a reverse Fight Club). From here the Fincher Fight Clubisms compound into a series of surprisingly well done sequences and images. The post-drug state of the film explores a vibrancy Fincher likely won’t be touching anytime soon, similar to visuals explored by Danny Boyle for Slumdog Millionaire or Fernando Meirelles for City of God, but the influence looms heavy. Burger still doesn’t quite have a voice of his own at this point, but between this and The Illusionist he’s certainly developing an incredible ability to sing other’s songs. He’s moved from one of the best bar bands you’d ever hear, onto the road as the best cover band you’ll ever hear, and is hopefully on his way to being a genuinely great artist all his own. I’m making mental notes to continue following his career closely, and hoping he gets something truly wonderful to work with in the future.
I continue to sit on the fence concerning the talents of Bradley Cooper, despite his obvious charms (he was pretty great in The A-Team). This is a great vehicle for him, one he reportedly snatched from under Shia LeBeouf, who would’ve been too damn young for the part anyway. The true value of Cooper’s performance is in his choice of not playing Eddie as a total prick. The character’s flux of smarts and power obviously turns him cocky, but I was still willing to root for him to win out in the end, and since the entire film is built so aggressively around his character, a lesser performance could’ve sunk even Burger’s tasty visuals in minutes. I’m still not entirely sold on the guy (apparently I’m a jerk?), but he’s well cast, and weathers the weight of the role quite well. The rest of the cast is more or less exclusively supportive (we’re talking a textbook example here), so it’s hard to single anyone out as worthy of praise or criticism. Robert DeNiro continues his run of generally useless secondary characters that could be played by any actor under the sun (the trailers imply that he’s more integral to the film, and give away the climax). It’s a little sad to see him not pushing himself anymore, but he’s not embarrassing himself.
Visually speaking Limitless is a sort of cousin of JJ Abrams’ Star Trek, Fight Club, and Fernando Meirelles’ City of God. It’s shot on 35mm with high contrast, intense colours, and a dirty lens that picks up flairs and grain with purpose. Things begin desaturated and blue, but as soon as the drug starts its effect on Eddie the palette is incredibly expanded, and the brightness blooms rather than crusting with gritty grain. The vibrancy of the hues shoots this 1080p transfer well beyond the abilities of standard definition. Overall there is a yellowish tint to the transfer, with a strong blue and red influence, highlighted with clean whites and consistent blacks. This primary palette also allows for a rush of glorious greens, which then usually feed into the more subdued, comedown look. When Eddie is unfocused minor details like textures are sharper, and overall grain is much thicker, when he’s ‘smart’ foreground details are sharpened, while backgrounds are softened and smoothed over. The separation of elements in these fuzzier backgrounds is clearly sacrificed, but the gradations are smooth, and the foreground colours swell without bleeding or blocking (Cooper’s blue eyes are supernaturally blue). The overall sharpness does create some minor edge enhancement in cases, but for the most part only the grain is any sort of issue, and since it’s an intended look, I can’t really count this against the transfer.
Neil Burger’s hyper-stylized world runs on the logically hyper-stylized sound design. The sharpness of the focus clearly has a basis in the story, and Burger and his sound designers are smart to makes the sound largely subjective, and different depending on Eddie’s state of mind (or the state of mind of anyone else on the drug). When his mind is muddled sounds are smoothed over and messy, and when he’s smart everything he focuses on creates almost ridiculous levels of volume. The memory skipping sequences are the most incredible moments for the mix, especially a rush of sound that comes during the characters loss of 18 hours featuring a mix of muted abstractions, skipping noises, and blaring reality. Chase scenes and shoot-outs also allow for plenty of more obvious aural pleasures (there’s a cool bit where a villain shoots into a piano, creating musical gunshots), and there’s also plenty of basic ambience to fill out the channels, and give us a sense of movement.
Though I suppose the presence of the unrated version of the film (which features some boobs that would’ve gotten the film an R-rating), the extras really begin with an audio commentary featuring director Neil Burger. Burger kicks things off strongly, giving us a brief background on the production, his reason for taking on the project, and simple, but not stupid, technical jargon. He has a slight issue with narrating on-screen action, or stating the insanely obvious subtext of a sequence, but the bigger issue is his difficulty maintaining momentum. This track is most valuable for people that don’t obsessively focus on the language of filmmaking, and might want to understand how Burger and his crew produced such a tangibly effective motion picture. Still, I noticed most of this stuff the first time around, and would personally have preferred a little more behind the scenes information and anecdotes.
‘A Man Without Limits’ (4:30, HD) is a behind the scenes EPK that focuses mostly on the look of Eddie, and includes interviews with Cooper, Burger, producer Scott Kroopf, writer/producer Leslie Dixon, costume designer Jenny Gering, and actress Abbie Cornish. ‘Taking it to the Limit: The Making of Limitless’ (11:30, HD) is a more general EPK featuring the same interviewees, along with actor Johnny Whitworth, location manager Staci Hagenbaugh, fight coordinator Ben Bray, stunt coordinator Jeffery Lee Gibson, camera operators David Thompson and Glenn Kaplan, cinematographer Jo Willems, VFX supervisor Christopher Scoolard, and production designer Patrizia Von Brandenstein. This featurette covers inception, hiring and working with Burger, shooting on location, stunts, fight choreography, Cooper doing his own stunts, cinematographic choices, and visual effects work. The extras are completed with an alternate ending (kind of the same ending, but a little better), and the original theatrical trailer.
Limitless isn’t some transcendent masterpiece I’ll be looking to watch again anytime soon, but it was a surprise given my low expectations, and general disinterest in the subject matter. Neil Burger continues slowly on the road to being a director of real note, and Bradley Cooper continues to make me second-guess my continuing blasé feelings towards his skills. I strongly suggest the other doubters out there move the film somewhere onto their rental queue for future viewing, but do not recommend a blind purchase. The disc looks great, and makes great use of the film’s dueling colour palettes, while the DTS-HD soundtrack and extras remain solid, if not notable.
*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 19th July 2011
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 French
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: Director Commentary, A Man Without Limits, Taking it to the Limit, Alternate Ending, Trailers, Digital Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Neil Burger
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Anna Friel, Abbie Cornish, Robert De Niro, Andrew Howard
Genre: Action, Drama, Sci-Fi and Thriller
Length: 105 minutes
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