Like being told that cows sit down before it is going to rain, echinacea is good for preventing a cold, and Bob Dylan is a genius (hmm), we have all heard the ‘story’ that human beings only use 20% of our brain capacity. In fact, I’ve even heard versions of the tale suggesting we use as little as 0.4%.
Your decision to believe this brain capacity fact can be suspended for the duration of this film as it is treated as gospel and indeed forms the core theme.
Our hero is a slacker who is bumming through life and amounting to an epic fail. Girlfriend has just dumped him, no words written on his anticipated first book, messy flat, unpaid rent, unwashed appearance. Chance leads him to acquire a drug that enables him to tap into corners of his brain that had previously lain dormant and thus his potential is limitless.
Whilst on the drug, he is a newfound super-human.
Neil Burger directs this adaptation of Alan Glynn’s novel The Dark Fields. More on Burger shortly.
The lead is a first time shot at top billing status for Bradley Cooper. You’ll know Cooper as the handsome one from The Hangover or as Face from The A-Team Movie. Cooper has not been tested as a leading man to this point so I was curious to see how he would get on carrying the film.
A note about Mr Cooper. He is a handsome man; there is no getting away from that. But unlike a handful of Hollywood handsome men, he still retains a real likeability. As a straight man, I am sometimes a little frustrated when I see model-good-looks actors getting amazing roles in films where it is clear they are only employed for their appearance, nothing to do with skill. An example that springs to mind is the woefully irritating Matthew McConaughey who never fails to get on my wick. McConaughey may have a chiselled jaw line, but he also seems to possess no discernable talent whatsoever…how would you get me to watch The Lincoln Lawyer? A cash bribe would be the minimum requirement, and I’ve actually heard it’s quite good!
So, I like Bradley Cooper and I’m not going to pretend I wasn’t routing for him to be good in this film.
Pleasingly, Cooper is very good, demonstrating an impressive range throughout his journey and keeping us on side at all times. As the film opens he provides an upbeat narration that is underscored by a soundtrack that initially sounds low budget to say the least – it just doesn’t seem to fit the expected vibe of this film. To my surprise, my early worry wears off very quickly.
Limitless is the sort of film that I suspect is going to invite disappointment. The fact is that the core idea is one we have probably all spent time daydreaming about and I often find with films like this the viewer is always going to feel a little let down that the concept didn’t go as far as their own imaginations could.
I certainly have felt this about numerous ‘single idea’ films in the past – Hancock, where Will Smith plays a hung-over superhero is one example that just doesn’t deliver to it’s concept potential. I Am Legend, where Will Smith is seemingly the last surviving human in a zombie possessed NYC. Men In Black, where Will Smith…only kidding. Another one would be Surrogates where humans are staying inside and letting their robotic replacements live their lives for them, another single idea film that just doesn’t go as far as you want it to.
It was with these examples in my head that I expected Limitless to entertain me to a point and ultimately disappoint due to lack of idea fulfilment or some sort of genius Kaiser Soze twist.
Well, actually I was very pleased indeed. The story is fun and exciting, sure it does become a bit of a thriller and of course it isn’t going to take you as far as you want it to. But it is all just so watchable and entertaining. There are twists and turns, moments when you find yourself really rooting for Cooper’s character, other times when you think to yourself ‘why would a super-IQ make that choice’ but the whole thing is a very pleasing ride.
As you may know by now, I’m not big on giving away plotlines, so I don’t intend to say much more about the story here. But I do want to talk about the style.
Neil Burger also directed The Illusionist, but other than that I was largely unfamiliar with his work. Well, Limitless is certainly a triumph for Burger. He tells the story with such pace and charm – it is a little like being on a merry-go-round whilst talking to someone delightfully fascinating, there is so much going on it is a fantastic blur, all you are really aware of is that you are having a good time. Probably!
The scenes where Burger really gets to show off are the moments when Cooper and others are experiencing the influence of the drug. He actually manages to demonstrate to the viewer with our measly 3 figure IQ’s how the drug would feel both in the high times, and the inevitable side effects.
I should also touch on the other characters. Robert DeNiro excels unsurprisingly as the fat cat businessman, but is frustratingly under-used. In fact under-used could also apply to Anna Friel and Abbie Cornish who play the ladies of the film. Andrew Howard is the films ‘bad guy’ who you can’t help but like, but I see this as credit to Howard who performs with style.
The winner of the piece is of course the concept. And as I touched on earlier, it is almost too good an idea for anyone to deliver the complete film to realise it.
What Limitless does, it does very well. Cooper is great. Burger directs with huge style and class. And if you don’t ask too many questions you will have a very entertaining couple of hours in the cinema.
I have to point out; it is not that easy getting to watch Limitless. Although it is currently on general release here in the UK there are a number of cinemas that aren’t screening it – I had to travel across town to catch it and this is a shame. It is a good film that deserves to be seen on the big screen. If it is on near you then get down there and enjoy, if not, it is worth travelling for.
I’d score it a very happy 7.5/10.
Now, I’m off to buy an umbrella, the cows are sitting down so expect a downpour.