Movie Review: Cosmopolis / Cert: 15 / Director: David Cronenberg / Screenplay: David Cronenberg / Starring: Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, Sarah Gadon / Release Date: Out Now
David Cronenberg’s latest offering is a strange cinematic beast, even by his considerable standards. It’s a slow and often eerily calm movie which comprises of what amounts to a series of vignettes with people talking and debating intellectual and philosophical matters. In parts it can be very testing and it’s difficult to describe the movie as being entertaining as such, yet somehow, the legendary body-horror director has created a film which still makes a profound impact.
It’s based on the novel of the same name by Don DeLillo, written in 2003, and in the broadest terms is a critique of the inherent failings of capitalism and its apparent inevitable downfall. Bare in mind of course this was written before the banking collapse of a few years ago and the events which unfold suddenly become remarkably prescient.
The film sees an incredibly wealthy and devastatingly intellectual young businessman, Eric Packer, concealed within his extravagant limousine crawling through the gridlocked Manhattan traffic on his way to get a haircut. The majority of the movie plays out in the confined space of Packer’s limo as he holds a series of meetings with flunkies, floosies and colleagues discussing various matters relating to his risky business venture involving betting against the Chinese Yuan. These conversations also seem to take on a greater importance and develop greater meanings, set as they are against a backdrop of civic unrest as angry protestors rage against the inadequacies and unfairness of modern day capitalism. Packer also has a series of meetings with his serene yet cold wife, a beautiful blonde poet from old money who seemingly has no desire to be at all close to her husband. In addition, he seems indifferent to what his bodyguard calls a ‘credible threat’ on his life and seems set on engineering his own destruction, but to what end?
Packer is completely removed from the world which passes by his window and cuts a distant figure with a pale and washed out face which emphasises his frozen nature even more. He represents the indifference and greed of the 1% and is thus the natural target for the angry underclass. We are constantly told that his life is in danger yet he seems so nihilistic that this news is simply irrelevant to him and he is interested only in his own downfall.
One thing which has to be emphasised is that Robert Pattinson is absolutely superb throughout. He is in practically every scene and a great deal of pressure thus lands on his young shoulders. He masters the aloof and emotionless nature of Packer perfectly and more than holds his own with an old pro like Paul Giamatti during a tense confrontation towards the movie’s end. An actor of his bankability doesn’t need to do movies of this size, and in many ways it is a bold move for the Twilight star, and it is one which pays off handsomely.
Cosmopolis though is very difficult to watch in places. This is primarily due to the unique manner of speaking which the characters all use. Great portions of dialogue are lifted straight from the book and it shows with many conversations sounding staged and incredibly unnatural. Throughout the movie, the actors use words and phrases you know, but deliver them in a manner and structure which you are not accustomed to somehow. You have to listen intently to every word to make sure you are really keeping up to speed with proceedings and in this respect it is a challenging film to sit through.
As well as being a stinging critique of capitalism and the morally bankrupt nature of many who get rich from it, Cosmopolis is also about Packer himself and his desire to test his own limits. Is he bored with his wealth? Or is it simply that he needs a new challenge? His whole life is played out in the confines of an ultra Hi-Tec limo where food, sex and company routinely come straight to him. The whole experience leaves Packer empty, hollow and bored. At one stage he calmly implores one of his lovers who is brandishing a taser to shock him with everything she has, “I’m looking for more” he says, “show me something I don’t know”. Equally telling is the immense dent caused to his psyche when his prostate exam, carried out in the limo of course, turns up the fact that his prostate is asymmetrical. It’s an imperfection which even he cannot understand and which thus drives him crazy.
It’s a film that definitely won’t be for everyone, it frequently borders on the pretentious and the lengthy conversations can get a little tedious. It’s also hard to know what you are meant to feel by the end of the movie, so far removed is Packer and the world he operates in, you never really make much of a connection with the characters on screen. Yet, despite all of this, it is still somehow a very memorable and affecting piece of work which will fester with you long after you leave the theatre. It’s a difficult film to sit through, but if you allow yourself to sit back and be immersed into the strange and despicable world which Cronenberg creates with these characters, then you may just find something there that resonates.