The upper limits
This brainy if slightly dated thriller is fast-paced fun, writes Donald Clarke
YOU HAVE TO worry a little for Limitless. In recent years, the market for decent thrillers that are neither sequels nor remakes, that are not based on comic books, that do not carry the imprimatur of Christopher Nolan has been in miserable, apparently inexorable decline. The film has done well enough in the US, but one wonders if any such beast can stay on its feet in such a climate.
Let’s hope it prevails. Based on a 2001 book by Alan Glynn, a talented Irish writer, Limitless does feel a little dated in its socio-economic concerns. The plot is a little unfocused; the flash is, at times, a bit too flashy. But, as high-concept romps go, Limitless really delivers. It’s not the best film released this week, but it is the most fun.
You don’t have to be a writer to discern the origins of Glynn’s
original concept. Bradley Cooper, the likeable, slyly charming star of The Hangover, stars as Eddie, a seriously blocked novelist. Eddie’s sink overflows with filth. His hair has matted into (by the standard of people like Bradley Cooper) neglected knots of greasy matter.
One day Eddie’s former brother in law, once a drug dealer, calls round and introduces him to a magic pill. One dose of this NZT-48 can unleash unimagined levels of creativity and turn even the weariest loser into an intellectual dynamo.
Eddie downs the drug and hammers out a saleable novel in a matter of days. He gives up the booze, tidies his flat, tones his body, learns a dozen languages and, after a few hours study, starts making fortunes on the stock exchange. (Would it be ill-spirited to point out that not every genius does the dishes regularly? It would. So, let’s pass on.)
Along the way, he encounters both a small-scale street hoodlum and a flash corporate raider. The latter, a Russian bruiser from whom Eddie borrows seed funding, begins lurking in the alleyways outside his door. The latter, played by a barely conscious Robert De Niro, is plotting a takeover of the financial universe.
Let’s deal with those few nagging issues. The Wall Street through which Eddie prowls – his career as a writer largely forgotten – behaves as it did when Glynn wrote the novel. Money is still fizzing about the streets and, summoning up memories of the Enron misunderstanding, Eddie’s new corporate partners believe the future is in energy trading. The film-makers cannot be blamed for including a tiny subplot involving Libya, but too much of the picture plays like a period piece.
All that noted, Limitless offers viewers a deliciously entertaining amalgam of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Flowers for Algernon (filmed as Charly). Edeie fast realises that, unless properly managed, the drug can cause distressing – not to say, murderous – side effects. He begins to imagine that, when hopped up, another, less pleasant version of himself prowls the streets inflicting awful mayhem in blameless quarters.
Meanwhile, it becomes apparent that Eddie is not the only citizen to mysteriously rise from obscurity to unexpected prominence. NZT users lurk in many powerful corridors.
Cooper has just the right combination of sleazy allure and ingenuous urgency for a character facing such a preposterous dilemma. Neil Burger, director of The Illusionist (the Ed Norton flick, not the animation), has the good sense to maintain a furious pace that rarely allows viewers to question the accumulating absurdities.
But the film is most notable for containing big ideas within a populist framework. Unlike poor Eddie, Limitless is just about smart enough to get by without any artificial chemical bolstering. It deserves to be a hit. THE STRANGE resurrection of Hammer Films continues. After their effective but unnecessary remake of Let the Right One In and the largely useless The Resident, the once iconic imprint strikes back with this Border county rendition of the Deranged Village Melodrama.
Stop us if you’ve heard this one before. A middle-class urban couple moves in to a pretty, if strange locale. Everyone seems nice at first, but before long pagan rituals are taking place beneath the sacred yew tree. Imagine a stew made from Pet Cemetery, The Wicker Man and Don’t Look Now and you’ll have some idea where Wake Wood is coming from.
It’s as properly freaky as that list suggests. Directed by David Keating, who gave us The Last of the High Kings 15 years ago, Wake Wood finds Patrick (Aiden Gillen), a vet, and his wife Louise (recidivist scream-queen Eva Birthhistle) relocating to the Irish northwest after a mad dog fatally savages their daughter. Patrick’s boss turns out to be Arthur, a bluff, jolly man – all tweed and cavalry twills – given flesh by a typically game Timothy Spall.
In a scene that strays a little too close to League of Gentleman territory, the couple later catch Arthur and the locals engaging in some awful bloodthirsty rite with something like the Abacus of Destiny.
Not surprisingly, the heroes are minded to return to the comforts of civilisation. But they are tempted back by a macabre suggestion from Arthur. He can raise their daughter from the dead. There are, however, catches that would appeal to the Brothers Grimm: the resurrection is only temporary, it only works if the child is dead less than a year, and (huge minor chord!) they must not leave the village.
It’s all pretty silly. But the script contains more than enough bracing reversals and the sombre Ulster skies to help sustain the suffocating sense of cow-dung gothic. Most importantly, the cast have the wit to attack every scene with admirable seriousness. There are certainly moments of unintended hilarity with the supposedly maggoty residents of deepest Donegal, but the three principals keep it real by playing it like they’re doing Pinter.
It wouldn’t be folk-horror hokum otherwise.
Careful what you wish for: Robert De Niro and Bradley Cooper in Limitless