Rating: 14A – Coarse Language, Sexual Content, Graphic Violence
Run Time: 108 minutes
His name is Eric Packer and he is, ostensibly, on a quest for a haircut. This objective is smoke-and-mirrors, we quickly learn, and is the veneer of a twisted examination on Packer’s body and mind in a city of mindless revolt. Packer wants ultimate satisfaction, either physical or intellectual suit his fancy. He is a multi-billionaire whose riches have buried him in a desensitized life of debauchery and fruitless, lame-brained excursions. His limo might as well be a coffin.
This encompasses Canadian auteur David Cronenberg’s “Cosmopolis”, a literary-to-a-fault adaptation of (the dialogue, and boy is there a lot of it, is less adapted and more transcribed from) Don DeLillo’s 2003 novel. Cronenberg’s film involves a curious series of interactions wound up in philosophical rants and occasional sexual acts. Most of them occur in Packer’s limo, framed in bizarre wide angles that ultimately morph into deep-focus shots due to the limo’s extended chassis. Cronenberg keeps a lot in the frame, making many of the scenes about what occurs at the peripherals rather than the centre.
Critics have deemed “Cosmopolis” essentially as an ironic fable, a would-be tragedy of a lone billionaire that pivots on a scathing vivisection of modern capitalism. For me, “Cosmopolis” is all about the literal being the message. A straight-as-an-arrow dissertation on a man’s soullessness, without a plethora of political pretensions. Like most of Cronenberg’s films, “Cosmopolis” examines a character’s discontent for society, while offering no solutions to his woes. The movie moves with a grotesque logic.
This might explain why “Cosmopolis” works: in spite of the deadness of the characters and oblique nature of DeLillo’s narrative, Cronenberg imbues this aimless tale with slithery urgency. His new movie has a latex exterior, but it’s not all body. “Cosmopolis” is very cerebral, perhaps uncompromisingly so, completed with characters from prostitutes to lowlives who nevertheless articulate themselves with the skill of a pedagogue.
Robert Pattinson plays Packer. It’s a role of dead-calm coolness, strangely in the ballpark of the “romantic” deadpan of Pattinson’s Edward Cullen in the never-ending “Twilight” series. It shows you performance style is anchored by the director’s vision; Pattinson’s unsympathetic modus operandi is born for Eric Packer. In fact, the whole film is pretty unlovable and features brief performances by Juliette Binoche, Jay Baruchel, and Samantha Morton that earn our dismay, while simultaneously our attention.
“Cosmopolis” is aggressively talky. But unlike Cronenberg’s last film “A Dangerous Method”, also dialogue-driven, “Cosmopolis” doesn’t feel nearly as earthbound in its narrative and Cronenberg no longer yields to drab formalisms. While this DeLillo adaptation has an undeniable staginess, it is rarely inert. Cronenberg’s visual style is alive and hands-on as ever, even if his knack for clarity is sometimes not. His ideas are like action-painting, creativity tossed energetically on the canvas.
“Cosmopolis” confounds, and for many will frustrate some with its brooding. Team Edwards should take note that Pattinson is not catering to their tween hearts. Here he is a rogue who somehow holds an illuminating conscience. His moments with wife Elise (Sarah Gadon), bodyguard Torval (Kevin Durand), and sex pal Kendra (Patricia McKenzie) offer a real edge.
Unfortunately, the film’s talkiness runs out of breath by the last scene with the arrival of Benno (Paul Giamatti), a former employee of Eric out for justice. Cronenberg wants to go out with an intellectual bang and deliver a quiet finale that leaves us equally stumped and riveted. But it rambles, draining that potential for impact. We are left instead with the wrong question: why didn’t that slick flick pay off?
But hitherto, your mind will be racing. Trying to catch up with a film that, for once, has a mind of its own. “Cosmopolis” is a thinker’s movie that wrestles with DeLillo’s ideas/pretensions and, for the most part, comes out on top. It is thrilling to witness a noir Toronto in futuristic ruin, overwhelmed by protests far more damaging than a G-20 summit. The movie reeks of science-fiction. If you ask me, it is time for Cronenberg to adapt a Philip K. Dick.