THE drugs do work in Neil Burger’s visually arresting morality tale, set on the bustling streets of modern day New York.
However, narcotic nirvana comes at a price.
According to popular myth, humans only use 10 to 20 per cent of their total brain power – startling statistics without any grounding in documented scientific fact.
Imagine the huge leaps and bounds that could be achieved in science and the arts if we could somehow energise those supposedly dormant synapses.
The answers to the universe’s great mysteries could be resolved in the blink of an eye.
Alan Glynn’s debut novel, The Dark Fields, invented a fictitious wonder drug that could do just that – reboot the brain – and imagined the repercussions for an avaricious modern society.
Screenwriter Leslie Dixon adapts the book to the big screen as an (im)morality tale about a struggling writer, who has the whole world in his hands and selfishly squanders this remarkable gift to indulge in the excesses of 21st century life.
Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) has been wrestling with writer’s block for weeks and now his girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish) has finally given up on him.
At his lowest ebb, Eddie meets his former brother-in-law, Vernon (Johnny Whitworth), who furnishes the struggling writer with a wonder pill called NZT, which reportedly increased brain activity and unleashes untapped creativity.
Eddie swallows the clear pill and the next morning, he discovers he has furiously churned out the first 40 pages of his magnum opus.
As Eddie becomes addicted to the medication, he metamorphoses from hopeless bum into a suave, ultra-confident and charming man about town, winning back Lindy and earning the respect of powerful Wall Street mogul, Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro).
However, Eddie’s supply of pills is finite and in order to continue his meteoric rise, he must acquire a new stash.
Limitless is stylishly crafted by director Burger, who employs some nifty visual trickery to replicate the hallucinogenic side effects of NZT as it opens Eddie’s mind to a world of thrilling possibilities.
Nobody likes a know-it-all and sure enough, Cooper struggles to win our sympathy for his drug-assisted hero, who can talk his way to success by recalling facts from the darkest recesses of his memory.
There’s a certain amount of Schadenfreude on our part when he must suffer for abusing his powers. Cornish looks gorgeous in an undernourished supporting role while De Niro barely has enough time on screen to get beneath the skin of his influential money man.
A hastily contrived coda, set 12 months later, attempts to tie up some of the loose narrative threads but there would have been a pleasing symmetry if Eddie’s life had been left in disarray.