COSMOPOLIS Movie Review
Oh, what the average viewer of David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis wouldn’t give for an occasional exploding head or gruesome man-sized Fly to rouse themselves from the stupor caused by this endlessly-blathering adaptation of Don DeLillo’s eponymous novel. A cinematic affront to the adrenal gland, the dreary Cosmopolis contains a story yearning to break free, but is eventually weighed down beyond repair by smarmy and nonsensical dialogue and opaqueness for opaqueness’ sake.
The film opens on Robert Pattinson as Eric Packer. Rich beyond measure, Packer travels New York City in his ultra-luxury stretch limo that doubles as a mobile office. Inside, on a leather chair more throne than car seat, Packer moves mountains of cash via speculative trading. Only in his late 20s, and despite being enormously wealthy, Packer is clearly miserable from the get-go. Although outwardly concerned about his network of security and the worldly affairs that fuel his vast fortune, Packer opens the film by pouring billions into a speculation on the yuan that his advisers, analysts, and mistresses all separately agree amounts to career suicide. Packer is indifferent, instead alerting his driver and bodyguard that he wishes to get a haircut at his preferred barber shop, clear across the city.
What follows is a low-speed amusement park attraction of sorts, as Packer comes across a variety of characters and incidents on his trek to the barber, including his beautiful but sexually frigid wife, a violent anti-1% demonstration that nearly leads to the destruction of Packer’s limousine, a daily checkup from his doctor (who gives Packer a fairly awkward prostate exam right in his limo, proclaiming said prostate to be “asymmetrical”), a funeral procession for Packer’s favorite rap star, a bizarre attack by a man known as the “Pastry Assassin”, and a mysterious figure that appears to be following Packer’s movements.
In between these footnotes on Packer’s journey, the viewer is treated to lengthy conversations between the billionaire and his entourage. Tiresome capitalist homilies with advisers are interspersed with Packer screwing mistresses and unsuccessfully pursuing his equally-wealthy wife while his vast fortune shrinks with alarming speed. Through it all, Packer obsesses about his asymmetrical prostate and intangible concepts of originality and purpose. Ultimately, Packer’s realization that he has no purpose translates into meaningless violence, his mental breakdown mirroring the breakdown of society outside his limousine, until finally an obstinate and emotionless Packer encounters that “mysterious figure” mentioned previously, played by Paul Giamatti. The movie’s final scenes play out with two opposites wishing to become the other – a man with everything who wishes to become nothing, and a nobody who seeks to fulfill his dream of being ‘somebody’ at the point of a gun.
If this sounds like an entertaining and enlightening cinematic experience, I must sadly assure you that it is not. Far from it. As reasonably interesting as the film’s boiled-down themes may be, Cosmopolis is repeatedly hamstrung by (and I hesitate to say this, because it is Cronenberg we’re talking about here) amateurish and ham-handed script decisions. The narrative, if one can even call it that, is insufferably monotonous and tedious. While the plot I described does indeed contain a character arc of sorts, it is buried beneath ludicrous business-minded sermons. Samantha Morton, who plays Packer’s chief adviser Vija Kinsky, drew a particularly short straw vis-a-vis casting, her only scene playing out as a singularly painful Socio-Economics 101 lecture to nobody in particular. It’s a thankless task and Morton has no chance of rising above the material, sounding more like Siri stuck in a Bourgeois Mode loop than the talented actress that she is.
Indeed, hardly anyone is capable of rising above Cosmopolis’ script to make a viewer feel anything besides listless detachment. Jay Buruchel, Juliette Binoche, and Mattheu Amalric all make ‘one-scene-and-done’ appearances, and are hardly able to lend much to the proceedings with their sparse roles. It may surprise you to know (but shouldn’t) that Pattinson holds his own as the remote and jaded Eric Packer. Pattinson isn’t quite up to the task to convey the inner turmoil that Packer experiences, but hell, at least he has a chance to act in this film, something that the Twilight franchise hardly allowed. Only Giamatti has the acting power to make Cosmopolis the least bit entertaining to this viewer. His sublime turn as the nervous and deranged Benno Levin is magnetic, further cementing his status as one of this generation’s hands-down greatest actors (as if it needs further cementing).
Cosmopolis is not an utter strikeout by any means. Cronenberg’s camera work is solid as always, deftly demarcating Packer’s inner bubble and the chaos of ‘outside’, before the two inevitably converge. The cinematography is beautiful. Packer’s luxurious and technologically-advanced limousine is shot gorgeously bright, while the exterior night shots are dialed down to smooth, and slightly sinister, oranges and yellows. The score is another highlight, the inestimable Howard Shore brilliant as always and Emily Gaines‘ contributions also quite lovely.
Unfortunately, no amount of ancillary talent can save Cosmopolis from itself. It is a cheerless affair, far too self-aware of its own perceived cleverness to provide an enriching experience to anyone but the most dedicated Cronenberg supporter. Readers of DeLillo’s novel proclaimed it “unfilmable” in the lead-up to Cronenberg’s eventual adaptation. If the film is any indication, it still may be.
Cosmopolis was released on Blu-Ray and DVD on January 1.