What would you do if you could fully tap your brain’s capabilities? Every generation or so, the question is pondered, thanks to the latest breakthroughs or studies in neuroscience. It makes for an interesting discussion and sometimes, brilliant works such as Flowers for Algernon (the great book by Daniel Keyes, and Charly the movie with Cliff Robertson). The most recent addition to this sub-genre of fiction is The Dark Fields, a novel by Alan Glynn, which became the basis for the movie [[[Limitless]]], which was released on DVD this week by Twentieth-Century Fox Home Entertainment.
If you were Eddie Morra, you apparently turn into something unlike yourself. We meet him teetering atop a high-rise as people bang on his security door to enter his apartment fortress. Flashing back, we learn what happened to turn a slacker into a genius. Leslie Dixon’s screenplay, which makes huge changes from the novel, shows us a sad sack, but a sad sack with a novel contract, unable to write. After months of not writing and living like a slob, he meets his book editor girlfriend Lindy only to be dumped.
A chance meeting with the brother of his ex-wife introduces him to the experimental drug NZT-48 which clarifies his thinking, making him hyper-aware of the world around him and focuses his mind, allowing him to accomplish more in a day than he has in six months. We see him write the overdue first chapters and actually hand printed pages to his stunned editor (mostly because editors so rarely see printed anything until the final book, but I digress).
The brother-in-law winds up dead and Eddie locates and steals the remaining supply of the drug and begins using them with increasing regularity to take his newfound powers of concentration and improve his life. He masters the piano, learns multiple languages, can see trends and capitalize on them– and here’s where both book and movie begin to veer off course. Rather than tap the creative energies that led to Eddie’s career, he somehow switches gears to become a day trader to get rich and then moves into the financial world. Meantime, his drug dependency grows and weird things begin to happen to him.
Sadly, the great potential here, a chance for a truly interesting character study and terrific performance, are squandered with a thoroughly mediocre script that does the predictable. He borrows money and gets caught up with a mobster, he allies himself with a corporate shark, he spirals out of control and is being followed by someone for unknown reasons. For a guy with such brilliant processing capabilities, Eddie never once tries to figure out where the dead Vernon obtained the drugs, which else has them, and what happens when the supply runs out. These are survival skills that apparently atrophy as a result of the drug.
His relationship with Lindy gets repaired while his ex-wife turns up to warn him about the drug’s dark side, with herself as living proof. And he still does nothing about it. Lindy, though, learns about it, and even takes the drug herself during a desperate plot point, not liking what she becomes but she is nonsensically dropped into and out of the story at whim so there’s no real relationship displayed here, wasting Abby Cornish’s remarkable gifts.
This should have been a wonderful acting showcase for the lead, the attractive and talented Bradley Cooper, but instead, this pedestrian treatment of the heady subject matter robs him of the opportunity. He’s surrounded by a solid supporting cast with Robert DeNiro as the oddly named Van Loon and a barely recognizable Anna Friel as the ex-wife.
The disc comes with the theatrical release and an unrated extended version which offers up a mere 57 seconds of additional graphic violence. Oh joy. It does nothing to improve the story, which is stylishly directed by Neil Burger (The Illusionist) who still can’t wring anything fresh from the story. Visually, though, he used a technique he called “infinite fractal zoom” that helps highlight the world from a drug user’s perspective.
The Blu-ray comes with a short “A Man Without Limits” (4:29) drawn from the press kit while the slightly longer “Taking it to the Limit: The Making of Limitless” (11:38) offers up little of value. The 5:14 alternate ending merely shows a variation of the existing ending but you see why it was altered. You get the Theatrical Trailer plus audio commentary from Burger, which nicely explains what he was thinking here and there.
Had we really gotten into the rise and fall of a brilliant man, playing out the less obvious aspects of such a drug, the movie could have been truly remarkable instead of thoroughly ordinary.