In films bad things always happen to people who take drugs and in Limitless a struggling writer, Morra (Bradley Cooper) takes a pill that turns him into a banker.
The miracle drug here, NZT, is like neo-con ecstasy – instead of hedonism it gives the taker the ability to focus on minute detail, to analyse data instantly, work incredibly hard and get a very long way ahead in business without really trying.
It's a very modern fantasy. instead of being overwhelmed by information overload, a magic pill enables you to instantly file and access everything you ever read, heard or fleetingly glimpsed. You are your own high speed internet. Though shaped like a cautionary tale, limitless may be the most seductive film about drug taking since Trainspotting. When that film told you that heroin was like your best orgasm multiplied by a thousand it felt like bravado, hype: the powers granted by NZT are beyond the wishes offered by genies in fairytales.
Of course, the effects are temporary and you get addicted and suffer some fairly extreme side effects, but that's a fair price to pay for almost god-like power.
According to Burger's rather ham-fisted attempts to visualise the effects, it literally puts colour in your cheeks. Whenever Morra takes the drug he gets the kind of transformation you see in an air freshener commercial, suddenly everything is shot through a much brighter filter.
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The film seems to have ambitions to be a Fight Club style visual bombardment but all the effects and gimmicks are too literal: it's visionary filmmaking with the vision.
I don't think anybody involved in its making was on any smart medication and you can pick any number of holes in it. But what it does have going for it is that this actually tells you a story rather than a set of genre conventions.
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It's not perhaps the greatest story but it has tension, drama, bits of humour and an ending that isn't crushingly obvious from the start. Cooper is a good lead and even De Niro seems semi-interested.
The ending was apparently re-shot at the beginning of this year and may be a rare example of a re-shot ending that is actually an improvement.
With its new York settings and Twilight Zone-style story, Limitless is like an Adjustment Bureau that doesn't cop out at the end.
Director: Neil Burger
With: Bradley Cooper, Abbie Cornish, Robert De Niro, Andrew Howard, Anna Friel, Robert John Burke
Length: 104 mins