Greed, love and revenge are at the heart of The Limit Of, a stylish suspense film with a banking-sector backdrop.
A punchy opening sets out an early commitment to style as storytelling. We follow James (Laurence O’Fuarain) as he jogs through Dublin city at night. Aerial shots make the city look deserted.
On the ground, James moves with determination. He negotiates the city as though he’s its only inhabitant. There’s a contentment to this lonely ritual. These streets are his domain. The camera follows side-on and steady.
When he finally encounters another person, a young woman waiting at a traffic light, there’s an uneasy feeling to the camera movement. A cut to a wider angle pushes them to the extreme edge of the frame.
And then the lights change and James is on his own again. The camera moves alongside him, steady and assured once more. A sense of contented isolation is at the heart of The Limit Of’s earliest sequences.
Following the title card we open on a dingy looking campsite. Inside a caravan, Alison (Sarah Caroll) has nowhere to go in particular. She is then seen alone on a beach sipping tea from a flask. Like James, she’s shot at the centre of the frame, and like James, she is a lone wolf.
Back to the Silicon Docks as James prepares for work with a short montage. To the viewer, he initially appears as the personification of success. His is a regimented but fancy lifestyle. He packs a suitcase for work. He brings his own mug with him, as well as a bespoke teabag holder. Only the best will do.
James works as a banker. He carries with him only some of the assuredness that we see in the outside world. He is not a big shot at the bank. With reluctance, he refuses a loan to an elderly woman. His boss sits uncomfortably close to him, observing his technique.
At this early point in the film, James is drawn as being resistant to the bank’s cut-throat attitude. His co-worker Alison is also unenthusiastic about her work.
Through this dissatisfaction and a love of upmarket tea, James and Alison begin to warm to one another. As is the case with much of The Limit Of, it’s up to the audience to infer this through what we see as opposed to what we hear.
Alison and James have some clipped and intense exchanges. There are some instances of vulnerability, but both play hard to get. The camerawork fills in the blanks for us, hanging on a telltale glance to show a gradual breaking down of barriers and what appears to be a move toward romance. The pair become increasingly disillusioned with their work.
A standout scene features Mike, a hotshot banker played by Anthony Mulligan. Mike gives a speech that sounds as though he’s watched Glengarry Glen Ross a few times too many. It leaves a lasting impression and speaks to a jaundiced view of banks and their treatment of people that resonates throughout the film.
James endeavours to fix the evils he sees at his workplace. He hacks the bank’s computer systems in a sequence that could come straight out of CSI.
This shift to a high-concept style of visual storytelling further ramps up the tension in the picture. We are all aware of the baked-in anxiety of a progress bar ticking toward 100 percent, a digital twist on the well-worn bomb in a suitcase from thrillers of yesteryear. James’s grand plan is to steal from the rich and give to the poor; he’s an Irish Robin Hood, minus the tights.
But all of this happens so quickly, the plotting is compressed to such an extent that James has little to no arc. There’s no surprise in his Robin Hood turn, but what is surprising is where the remainder of the film takes us. Alison has her own agenda, one that sets her at odds with James.
There’s a classic thriller device at play here: the story appears to be done and dusted, but then a whole other thread is introduced and new suspicions and drama emerge. I’ll admit that save for a few sequences in the film’s opening act, I was not entirely taken in by The Limit Of. However, the momentum picks up in the back half of the film as twists and turns abound. Mulligan has plenty of tricks up his sleeve.
The ease with which The Limit Of moves from water-cooler drama to industrial cyber crime and later psychological thriller speaks to director Alan Mulligan’s own journey. Like the protagonist James, Mulligan was a banker who traded that life for the dreamland of cinema.
Mulligan is not only a fine director, capable of creating a pacy suspense picture, he’s also able to inject his characters and situations with a sense of actuality when it’s needed.
The Limit Of is not always a tight picture; at times, it feels a little haphazard. But this is a brisk, appealing picture that takes some unexpected turns. What starts off as a fairly typical movie soon becomes a little unhinged and later moves into an unforeseen series of thrilling and grizzly developments.
When The Limit Of works, it really works. Mulligan certainly proves his talent with this debut picture that’s a little sloppy in its plotting, but never dull and always visually pleasing.