Thursday, August 25, 2011

Limitless (2011)


I'm willing to admit that movies - blockbusters in particular - really seem to enjoy playing up the awesome, no consequence lifestyle of those on the edge. That one can get away with anything just so long as their awesomeness is never disputed or directly challenged by anyone of equal caliber. In other words, sometimes movies love to champion people who are a bit morally reprehensible. Take Bonnie and Clyde for example. Murderers and bank robbers? No, you've got it all wrong! They're just free spirited lovers looking for a good time in an increasingly complex world. See, totally different when you've sheltered the viewer from the bad side in favor of playing up some deep inner passion that strikes cords with the viewer (I should say now before angry comments, I think Bonnie and Clyde is top notch entertainment).

And so enters Limitless, a movie that seems to derive an extreme perverse enjoyment from making its character as morally ambiguous as possible. The core message: Infedility and (questionably) murder are OK so long as you take a smart drug which allows you to cheat the system for your own gain, and you're smart enough to beat the side effects of that smart drug! You know, it's those kinds of lessons in life you just don't enough these days. If only we just reached out and told children early on "developing a drug addiction may be bad for your health but you'll feel awesome about it" the world would be a better place (sarcasm intended).

Then again, who am I to judge the morality - or immorality - of a man's actions? After all the people most directly hurt by his actions are generally amoral people. Nobody would bother shedding too large a tear for them after all, right? Eh, yes and no. As someone who enjoys vigilante movies - even those to the extent of Kick Ass - I would think myself so inclined to sympathize with this character, if he were a vigilante. While I don't deny that there's a certain element of self indulgance in vigilantes, they generally serve a greater purpose than themselves. Eddie Morra's main purpose is entirely, without debate, himself. A fact that his constant narration is certain to reiterate as he flies from debauchery to addiction at the speed of sound.

All of which would be for naught if it weren't for a half-hearted effort at giving his character some sympathy at about the half way mark. This is done by supplying the drug with some side effects - which basically come down to in order for him to survive he has to keep taking the drug, just not quite so much. This is brilliant on two levels. 1) It allows our character to have some consequence for his actions, albeit rather mute consequences. 2) He gets to keep on taking the drug and gaining the benefits of using it, but now he has an excuse! This keeps the plot rolling, the fast camera swirling, and sets us up for a "seriously why is Robert DeNiro in this" finale so full of narcissism, I actually had to pause and take a good thirty minutes just to absorb it all.

Was Eddie Morra the victim of society? Hardly, he gets everything he would have ever wanted in life, including - inexplicably - the girl. Sure, there's the whole near death a couple of times thing, but those were entirely the fault of his own actions. Perhaps he's more of a Daniel Plainview sinister? Maybe, but he's hardly that prolific, or indeed captivating of a character. Not necessarily making him any less of a bad guy, but all the same. Yet I can't deny that he did not ask for some of the things to happen to him, but when you factor in that the drug he used allows him unlimited thought power it's hard to say he didn't want a great deal of it. Nor was he afraid of the consequences of it. Or perhaps, like many a drug addict he simply refused to face the possibility of consequences. Who knows.

What I do know is that Bradley Cooper is mint at playing completely unlikable characters that somehow gain even the most minute amount of likability from those around him. Abbie Cornish could definitely win a Nicole Kidman look alike contest. Anna Friel should be used more often in movies. And Eastern Europeans still remain reliable bad guys for writers running up against a deadline. Especially if you make them give an monologue about how good Google is just before they torture someone. I'm willing to bet that high quality an endorsement didn't come cheap.

I do not deny that Limitless is an entertaining piece of film, and there in lies my own personal turmoil. Do I begrudge and belittle the film for basically trying to make the audience sympathize with someone this beyond the edge of moral fortitude? I haven't in the past and generally assume a level of 'buyer beware' mentality towards such dark endeavors. However, unlike other films of this nature I feel Limitless struggles in a far worse area. Simply put - it's structure. The whole narrative of the film feels off. It plays its sympathy card too soon, and the latter half just feels like an elongated monologue on why you should never bother to learn lessons in life.

This bothers me, and while watching the film left me going "wait, what about all the stuff you just spent 45 minutes building up to!?" Eh, they tossed it out in a throw away line and are now working on another plot entirely and building up to entirely different ending. This is a jump the film reiterates near the final dozen or so minutes, though it makes the transition with more gumption. Then again, if I were to say this film was married to the moral ambiguity of its lead, its mistress waiting in the wings would most undoubtedly be unexplained plot jumps.

4 better thoughts:

Film Intel said...

Yes, good argument. The ethics are certainly questionable and thinking back now I can't actually remember how the whole 'what happened in that hotel room' situation was resolved, if it even was (which is, in itself, rather a negative point, since it can only be a small number of weeks since I watched it).

I think I probably managed to see past the ambiguities (did I see past them... or did the film-maker make me see past them?) more than you did. I liked the middle segment which channelled the paranoia-thriller genre to good effect and I thought the payoff at the end was decent, although I'm not really sure you hate De Niro's character enough to justify it.

My main problems were more technical than moral in nature; the voiceover is over-used and considering the go-anywhere, do-anything nature of the drug he doesn't really go anywhere or do anything. Also: the scene where Kidman/Cornish escapes her pursuer by using the drug to figure out an escape - there should have been more instantaneous stuff like that. It's possibly the single best scene.

Dan O. said...

You could pick the script apart for impossibilities. But why bother? It’s much more enjoyable to shut your brain off and have a good time. Cooper is also amazing as a leading man, and can really pull it off. Good Review!

Candice Frederick said...

i couldn't even get through this.

Brian said...

I hate, hate, hate this movie. I like Cooper, like the concept, wanted to like the film but the issues you mentioned plus a disgustingly bad script...slow death.

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