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Filmmaker Neil Burger, writer-director of 2006's The Illusionist, has written and directed Limitless, a new film that explores the idea of a secret drug that can help humans unlock the potential of their entire brains.

The marketing of this film seems to be suffering from a bit of an identity crisis, as it is hard to tell what genre falls into based on the trailers and TV spots. Is it sci-fi, action, a psychological thriller, or even a romance film?

What Limitless actually turns out to be is surprising. It's a combination of all of those genres, as well as something new at the same time. Given all that, does it make the film good, or just another flop trying to reinvent the wheel?

Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper), a low-life writer from New York, discovers a top-secret drug which enables him to access super human abilities. As most humans are only able to access 10-20% of their brain power, with this drug Eddie is able to access all of his.

Within several hours of taking the pill, he completely cleans and reorganizes his apartment, and writes a 300-page manuscript for his publisher. Within weeks of taking the drug, Eddie is using his intense brain power to predict stock market trends, consult for high-powered businessmen, and write books for his publishing deal.

As with any good thing, too much can turn out to be damaging, and Eddie starts to feel the repercussions of his drug use. With this realization, he begins to search for the drug's origin, which draws several mysterious people to watch his every move.

From the opening scene on, the fast-paced style and ADD feel of this movie is definitely what sticks out. There are some crazy-looking zoom shots that have the camera zooming down the streets of New York that keep zooming for blocks and blocks, through windows, between people walking down the street, and so on. While there doesn't seem to be any sort of practical function for this technique, it signals that Burger is aiming to jar audiences and to do something unorthodox with his film.

Another interesting technique that Burger employs is during the scenes when Eddie is first taking the drugs. To illustrate his ability to multitask and focus with the power of his entire brain, Burger shows several Eddies in the same shot doing different tasks. The interesting part of it is that the camera is not still during these shots; it's panning and moving around the scene which adds to the complexity of the shot. The technique is a great way to implement a montage without actually cutting up a sequence of shots, which would be something much more conventional.

The acting overall, which is almost solely shouldered by Bradley Cooper, is completely serviceable. Limitless isn't trying to win any year-end awards, but the acting definitely works for what the film is, and it delivers a pretty enjoyable experience. It should also be noted that Robert De Niro is also in this film! I know he doesn't show up in my summary above (I don't want to spoil anything), but he delivers a solid performance as well.

While Limitless doesn't blaze new trails in filmmaking, there is an effort for originality that is easy to respect and enjoy. It is always refreshing to see original films that aren't remakes, sequels, or the like.

Though this movie isn't going to escort audiences to any mental or spiritual revelations, it may leave you contemplating how the quick-fixes of our modern society (i.e. plastic surgery, botox, antidepressants, etc.) will affect their users in the long term.

(This review also appears on Paul's own website with David J. Fowlie, Keeping It Reel.)

Paul Balsom

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