Limitless (Blu-ray + Digital Copy)
Directed by Neil Burger
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 105 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 French
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish, French
MSRP: $ 39.99
Release Date: July 19, 2011
Review Date: July 18, 2011
When a “making a deal with the devil” scenario is utilized in a movie, it’s a good idea to hire an actor whom the audience will really pull for as the character’s good luck and bad luck seesaw throughout the movie. The producers really scored a bull’s eye in choosing matinee idol Bradley Cooper as the protagonist of their film. While someone with his looks and smarts would seem to be a winner from the outset and not actually need outside help to become a success, the filmmakers quite brilliantly plant the seed in our minds that he’s a flop, a washout without his “devil deal” that gives him the edge. You’ll find yourselves pulling for him, too, in this entertaining if fanciful fantasy that integrates a raft of cinematic tricks in telling its Faustian story.
Chronic loser Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) is introduced by his ex brother-in-law Vern (Johnny Whitworth) to a miracle drug code named NZT-48. It’s a clear little pill that miraculously allows 100% of a person’s brain capacity to work on all cylinders all the time thus making such complex notions as the rise and fall of the stock market or the merging of industrial giants mere child’s play. After one pill, Eddie is able to see the limitless possibilities within himself with the help of this drug, but when he goes to get more from Vern, he finds Vern dead (though he finds his stash of pills and takes them for himself). Over the next months, he manages to make a $100,000 loan from a Russian mobster (Andrew Howard) into a $2+ million windfall. That kind of success in stock trading brings him to the attention of power broker Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro) who wants Eddie on his team, but Eddie finds himself knee deep in a flood of his own personal problems: keeping the mobster who learns the secret of the drug and wants more off his back, keeping safe from what appears to be a hired assassin, preventing himself from overdosing on the drug but taking enough to keep him sharp but healthy, taking precautions that he’ll be able to keep himself stocked up with the product, trying to win back the girl friend (Abbie Cornish) who had dropped him prior to his becoming Manhattan’s latest whiz kid.
The film is a director’s field day for Neil Burger (who previously was able to bring quite a bit of impressive dash and visual splendor to The Illusionist; this film deals in its own way with a different but similarly effective style of movie magic) who takes every opportunity to dazzle the viewer with cinematic tricks that enhance the sci-fi underpinnings of this drama. Film stocks change and color goes from pale to eye-popping depending on the amount of Eddie’s intoxication on NZT. To portray how his mind snaps to attention and finds clarity out of muddiness, Burger shoots multiple takes with the same set-up allowing a cadre of Eddies to be operating at the same time. When he’s writing his book, letters and words rain down upon him; when he walks, the streets and byways flash by in a series of infinite zoom shots that leave no doubt as to the mental acuity of our protagonist. (Though, it must be said that the director errs in allowing us to see that startling and impressive infinite zoom motif during the opening credits instead of wowing us with it for the first time once Eddie begins operating at hyper-capacity.) Elsewhere, he keeps the film’s pace brisk and never redundant so that one never knows from one sequence to the next what’s ahead. Screenwriter Leslie Dixon based her script on Alan Glynn’s obscure novel The Dark Fields, and most of it holds together beautifully, but how can a man be said to be in full control of his mental faculties and yet forget to pay off his Russian loan shark before his due date thus setting up one of the primary dangers for our hero for the rest of the movie? Plot-wise it’s necessary, of course, but it doesn’t work if one takes a second to stop and think about it. Likewise, a high tech security building practically allows World War III to erupt before other tenants seem to notice.
Bradley Cooper is every inch the movie star here segueing believably from embattled loser to hip winner (to ultimately slick maneuverer) while maintaining audience sympathy and empathy throughout. He also manages to convince us of his fluency in Russian, Italian, French, and Mandarin, not an easy task but essential in some key scenes where without it, the moments just wouldn’t have the snap they need. Robert De Niro makes his limited number of scenes count as he holds court as the power mad strategist who’s loath to yield his place to an up-and-comer. Andrew Howard is every inch the slithery mobster using threats and intimidation to get what he wants in a genuinely scary performance. Abbie Cornish doesn’t have a lot to do as the girl friend torn between her feelings and her common sense (though she does ace one nicely staged chase scene in Central Park). Ned Eisenberg as Eddie’s lawyer holds a few surprises up his sleeve in later reels.
The film has been framed at its theatrical 2.40:1 aspect ratio and is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. With the tricky shifts between desaturated scenes when Eddie’s a nobody to the gloriously rich colors of Eddie on top, the transfer handles most of this quite well. There a momentary transition between these two phases where there’s some blockiness almost akin to false contouring, but it’s gone in a second. Sharpness throughout is excellent, and black levels are rich and deep. The film has been divided into 24 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix boldly puts together the dialogue (firmly rooted to the center channel), sound effects (which could have been spread more luxuriously throughout the soundfield), and Paul Leonard-Morgan’s music score (which gets the most obvious extension throughout the fronts and rears) into a good but slightly less than great encode. The LFE channel seems somewhat underused especially in the more violent moments scattered throughout the movie, but the overall effectiveness of the audio track is certainly more than acceptable.
The audio commentary is provided by director Neil Burger. Though he describes the story we’re watching far too much as he makes his way through the movie, he does add thoughtful comments about the actors and some of the more innovative motifs when they come up.
The user may choose between the theatrical cut or the unrated version of the movie. There is less than a minute’s difference between the two versions (I watched the unrated version for the purposes of this review), so I’m guessing that the unrated version contains a few seconds more of violence that would have prevented the PG-13 rating for the theatrical release.
All of the bonus featurettes are presented in 1080p.
“A Man Without Limits” is an EPK featurette offering a brief description of the movie’s plot with comments from director Neil Burger, actors Bradley Cooper, Abbie Cornish, Johnny Whitworth, and Robert De Niro, producer Scott Kroopf, producer/writer Leslie Dixon, and costume designer Jenny Gering. It runs for 4 ½ minutes.
“Taking It to the Limit: The Making of Limitless” is a slightly longer EPK featurette with the director, writer, actors Cooper, Cornish, and De Niro, director of photography Jo Willems, and fight coordinator Ben Bray all discussing individual aspects of the 44-day shooting schedule. It runs 11 ¾ minutes.
The film’s original ending (listed here as an alternate ending) is presented in a 3 ¼-minute clip. Wisely, the producers were able to find time for Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro to reshoot a new ending months later which was used in the released film.
The film’s theatrical trailer runs for 2 ½ minutes.
Also on the disc are 1080p promo trailers for Immortals, Season of the Witch, and X-Men: First Class.
The second disc in the set is the digital copy of the movie with enclosed instructions for installation on Mac and PC devices.
3.5/5 (not an average)
An entertaining thrill ride with only a few plot inconsistencies and stumbles to keep it from reaching even greater heights, Limitless makes an expressive and effective high definition release. A few fluffy bonus features don’t add much to one’s enjoyment of the piece, but the movie itself is well worth a rental.