As a film about drugs Limitless both succeeds and fails. It fails to be fantasy, or to say very much new about either drugs or intelligence - the stereotypes of bankers and cocaine, or artists and hallucinogens (or cocaine) are too familiar, with the benefits of creativity and vision, better concentration and alertness offset by paranoia, flashbacks, nausea, withdrawal, dependence and entanglement with the equally stereotyped criminal underworld. It succeeds in being a cautionary tale without straight-to-camera morality lessons, and the Clear Pill encompasses the features of many different drugs - in addition to the creativity or alertness there are hints of Viagra and E plus of course Dutch courage.
Limitless succeeds as a combination of psychodrama and thriller and this comes down to the performance. A little like Sam Rockwell in Moon, Bradley Cooper plays several different versions of Eddie: Eddie as drop-out, Eddie as super-suave high achiever and Eddie paranoid, desperate and in pain. Abbie Cornish and Robert De Niro are also great but their time on screen is limited to a few intense scenes each while Cooper is the constant presence.
An impossible zoom in the title sequence, accompanied by the first themes of a powerful and melancholy soundtrack, places Limitless squarely in the music video domain. Director Neil Burger uses every trick in the music video book to visualise Eddie's higher state of consciousness: colours brighten, view angles widen, and Eddie's intelligence is superimposed over reality - for example, stocks and shares rotate across the ceiling. The impossible zooms recur, adding momentum to the movie and symbolising both the way the drug smooths Eddie's route to success but also the way it controls his life and takes him to unexpected places.
Overall, despite its flaws Limitless is a sexy, addictive movie that you can immerse yourself in until your senses are overloaded - and watch out for the comedown after you leave the cinema.
No mice called Algernon were harmed in the making of this movie.