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Fox // Unrated // July 19, 2011
List Price: $39.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted July 19, 2011 | E-mail the Author
"I don't have delusions of grandeur; I have a recipe for grandeur."

You know how they say people only use 10% of their brain? I mean, you and I both know that's an exploded myth, but you know how people say it anyway? Well, pretend it's true, and then wonder what might happen if you had 100% of all your synapses firing at once. Quadruple-digit IQ. Total recall. An ability to absorb and process information on a scale never dreamt possible. Money, fame, power: the
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possibilities of what you could achieve would be...well, limitless. Eddie Mora (Bradley Cooper) chances upon that sort of perfection in a little transparent pill. Eddie's pissed away the past decade stumbling his way through life. Divorced, broke, slovenly, borderline-alcoholic...I mean, the guy's a "writer" -- use the sarcastic finger-quotes there -- who's deleted what few words he's bothered to type for his long overdue existential sci-fi novel. ...and then his sleazy ex-brother-in-law (Johnny Whitworth) turns him onto NZT-48: a staggeringly expensive designer drug so bleeding-edge that it doesn't even have a street name yet. Within thirty seconds of popping that first pill in his mouth, Eddie has total clarity. The novel that's been buzzing around in his head finally makes its way to the page. He learns to master the piano in three days flat. Through some trial and error, he's even gotten a chokehold on the stockmarket, turning a couple grand into a couple million in less than a week. It's a talent that attracts the attention of business tycoon Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro), a potential gateway to true, lasting wealth and power. It's during these early, critical meetings with Van Loon that Eddie discovers the darker side of this miracle drug -- a tendency to burn brightly and quickly fade away -- and it may be too late to stop...

There are rules a movie like this is supposed to follow. I mean, who just stumbles upon seemingly magical brain-enhancing pills? Clearly there's going to have to be some kind of sprawling conspiracy that completely envelops Eddie...and chances are someone he trusts with his life is in on it. One of the central conflicts of Limitless is if the drug is empowering Eddie to accomplish all of this or if RZT has transformed him into a different person altogether. So, obviously by the end of the movie, Eddie is gonna walk away from it all, realizing he's happier with who he really is than the hollow, idealized version the drug made him become, right? With most any other writer and director in tow, I'm sure Limitless would've marched in lockstep with everything that the usual formulas demand. Limitless doesn't head down those same familiar roads, though. There is no backstory behind the drug or any sort of conspiracy whatsoever. The story isn't about the pill anyway but what it it changes a dramatically the stakes are raised, with so much to gain and even more to lose.

There are no heavy-handed, quadruple-underlined moral messages about being true to yourself. Though there is some element of that as an undercurrent throughout Limitless, it doesn't dominate. Much of that is left up to the viewer to interpret. Lindy (Abbie Cornish) doesn't tell Eddie in between streams of tears that he's
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losing himself, and there are no ham-fisted monologues about identity or self or anything like that. Limitless keeps it fairly streamlined. The central conflict is internal -- Eddie, the pills he's choking down, and the good and the bad that goes along with it. Though he does butt heads with several other unrelenting, unyielding, powerful people along the way, there isn't even an overarching villain. It's a credit to the writing, direction, and endless charisma of Bradley Cooper that Limitless is so enthralling despite only sporadically getting caught up in the sort of cat-and-mouse games you'd expect out of a thriller. Limitless is rightly more fascinated by Eddie's ascent rather than see him fall back to Earth, and as bumpy as the ride to the top can be, the movie works with its emphasis of fantasy and wish fulfillment rather than a dark, tragic fable. I've seen enough cautionary tales over the years, and this is a hell of a lot more interesting. Cooper couldn't be more perfectly cast; it's not altogether easy to make a good-looking, rich, powerful, and deservably smug guy seem sympathetic, but he nails it brilliantly. I appreciate how smartly written the film is too. There are points I could absolutely nitpick, but the good -- the way that RZT isn't a magical smart-pill, and that there's still some measure of time, effort, and trial and error in everything that Eddie achieves -- far outweighs the weaker points. Limitless does set up a fair number of questions that it never answers, but at the end of the day, they really don't matter. Neil Burger's direction is snappy and energetic, and the occasionally gimmicky visuals are easily forgiven. I can't say enough good things about the way it all wraps up either: ambiguous, open-ended, and yet wholly satisfying. Limitless is a smart, well-crafted thriller, and even better, it's a movie that I don't feel that I've seen hundreds and hundreds of times before. Highly Recommended.

This Blu-ray disc serves up the PG-13 theatrical version of Limitless as well as a slightly extended, unrated cut. The differences I could spot look to be slight: a more graphic drug injection and a bit more violence. The difference in runtime is just over 45 seconds in all.

Limitless is an intensely visual movie, and that translates flawlessly to high definition. The look of the film changes dramatically depending on Eddie's state of mind. When he's his unheightened self, the frame is overcast, desaturated, and flat. The clarity that NZT gives his mind is reflected in the warmth and heightened contrast on the screen. The image immediately becomes more richly detailed, more colorful, and far glossier. As Limitless is culled from the digital intermediate, there is no trace of wear, speckling, or damage, and I was unable to spot any edge enhancement or compression artifacting. I got the impression that a touch of noise reduction was applied as a deliberate part of the visual aesthetic of Eddie's drug-heightened clarity, but that should in no way be considered a flaw with this presentation. Really, I'm not left with any complaints or criticisms whatsoever.

Limitless uses seamless branching to take full advantage of the capacity of this BD-50 disc rather than providing complete, separate encodes for each version of the movie. Both cuts are presented in scope and have been encoded with AVC.

This six-channel, 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is very effective as well. The surround channels convincingly flesh out the hustle and bustle of a sprawling metropolis like New York City, and the effects of the miracle drug kicking in also seize hold of the rears. Dialogue is consistently rendered cleanly and clearly, and it's balanced flawlessly in the mix. Bass response is solid, most notably the thunderous low-end in the electronic-tinged score.

Both cuts of Limitless also offer a Dolby Digital 5.1 dub in French (640kbps) as well as subtitles in English (SDH), French, and Spanish.

  • Audio Commentary: Director Neil Burger goes it alone on this commentary track, and it really would've benefitted from having...well, anyone else in the recording booth with him. Burger has a frustrating tendency
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    to simply narrate what's happening on the screen rather than discussing it, and the commentary is pockmarked with moderate gaps of dead air. There are a couple of short yet pretty great stories scattered around in here -- the Boston Bruins boarding a bus just outside of the frame while Bradley Cooper is fake-vomiting, for one -- but nothing that really justifies an hour and forty minute investment. Not worth a listen.

  • Alternate Ending (5 min.; HD): This alternate ending is really just a sloppier, less ballsy version of what's already in the final cut, minus the epilogue.

  • A Man without Limits (4 min.; HD): The first of two featurettes focuses on bringing the character of Eddie Mora to life: casting, costuming, and even his hairstyle.

  • Taking It to the Limit: The Making of Limitless (12 min.; HD): Limitless' central making-of featurette breezes through a lot in its lean 12 minute runtime: screenwriter Leslie Dixon acquiring the rights to the source novel herself, a fairly short shooting schedule, the three very different locations where Limitless was shot, the fight choreography, how Eddie's state of mind at any point in time influenced the cinematography, and a few other assorted visual techniques. Easily the best of the admittedly light selection of extras on this Blu-ray disc.

  • Trailer (2 min.; HD): Last up is a theatrical trailer.

The second disc in the set is a digital copy for use on iTunes and Windows Media-powered devices. The set comes packaged in a metallic slipcase.

The Final Word
Limitless is a really solid and often unconventional thriller, taking a potentially cliché-riddled "be careful what you wish for..." premise and resisting the urge to turn it into just another cautionary tale. It seems like thrillers these days are either interchangeably generic or an excuse to slather every square of the screen in $80 million worth of CGI pyrotechnics, and Limitless breaks away from that in a very satisfying way. The movie looks and sounds terrific on Blu-ray, and although the extras are somewhat light, Limitless is still very much worth catching up with if you missed it in theaters. Highly Recommended.
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