Thursday, July 28, 2011
Nothing nails the hyperconsciousness of Neil Burger's Limitless like its opening credits, a Google Street View constantly zooming ahead, not thinking about the next step but the next forty. Limitless casts Bradley Cooper as an Ozymandias figure—Watchmen, not Shelley—sitting in front of his 80 television screens as he sorts through all the information to make connections about what’s going on in the world, and Cooper makes a winning hero as he transforms from a self-hating schlub without any of the depression to a cocky genius begging to be taken down a peg to a paranoid addict who will drink anything for another hit. There are shades of “Be careful what you wish for” on top of the obvious addiction stuff (which offers a few chilling surprises), but it’s mostly an illustration of every man for himself, a vicious strain of capitalism taking increasing hold in America. It gets lost a bit in the middle, but Leslie Dixon’s screenplay nails not just the violence of selfishness but the hypocrisy: nobody gets ahead on their own.
Unfortunately, Neil Burger doesn’t do much to visualize this story beyond a few well placed graphic effects and some saturated shots to feed the senses. The unifying thread for the three stages—schlub, Wall Street, paranoiac—is sleaze, but this film is too cool for grime. Cooper does what he can with a Kurt Cobain wig that’s been drug through a few sewers and a few days’ growth that isn’t doing him any favors, but a messy apartment fancily shot is something of a mixed message. Burger does blend good, old-fashioned film stock with high-def DV, but as with the production design, he too often lets the stuff do the talking; with the film stock providing the grain, there’s no need for expressive camerawork and editing. For contrast, consider Darren Aronofsky’s Pi, which, whatever its failings, chases intelligence off the ledge into paranoia with a fidgety camera and dirty film. Limitless is a timely warning wrapped in a fun pulp story, but it’s disappointingly free of the burden of hyperconsciousness.