David Cronenberg’s work, in the oughties, has, in a way, set itself apart from his earlier output. Perhaps it all began with the striking but underwhelming Spider, but his turn of mood and change of theme, moving away from the body horror and parable that he was known and loved for, may have come to an end with a (kind of) return to sci-fi. With Cosmopolis, like Spider, coming right after the misunderstood eXistenZ, it lands right after his most subdued film of the past decade, A Dangerous Method and it’s a real clunker of a gear change.
A self made billionaire named Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) hops in his limo with his driver (Kevin Durand) to head across town for a hair cut; A ludicrously simple plot line for a film made even more ludicrous by the interruptions along the way. Employees, lovers, friends, a rapper’s funeral, a riot, a presidential visit and a prostrate exam, all hinder the cold, soulless mogul’s mission for a short back and sides. And boy can they all talk. Endless discussions in the stretch about wealth and sex and power run through the film like the blood used to do in the old Cronenberg horrors. But there’s something far more disgusting here and not particularly in a good way.
Using Don DeLillo’s novel of the same name Cronenberg has certainly put together a seriously well directed film. It looks great considering that the majority of the picture takes place inside a limousine, it’s darkly and atmospherically shot by the director’s right hand man Peter Sushitzky. It never really drags visually and that is an outstanding feat in photography from the great DOP. It is strangely watchable despite the terribly stilted babbling dialogue and Pattinson kind of steps up… so what is it that lets Cosmopolis down?
Cronenberg reportedly wrote the script in 6 days and that time and effort is all up there on the screen. The conversations regarding the world’s financial crisis and the premise that one day all currency will be replaced by the rat may be taken straight from the pages of the source but up on screen they seem horribly patronising at the minute, especially in their delivery. Even more so because there isn’t one likeable character in Cosmopolis. You wouldn’t take a pee pee on Packer if his (rather shabby) hair was on fire and hearing his sneering perspective for an hour and a half soon becomes a drab boring lecture.
Every character in Cosmopolis is so flat you can hardly see them, however Pattinson’s style (or lack there of) has been pilfered perfectly by Cronenberg. His cold and empty face makes us feel little for him, but in a film where he’s in every scene preaching his philosophy of greed, for what reason? Why the other actors come off like they’re taking part in a reading instead of a film is equally as baffling. The excellent Samatha Morton and Juliet Binoche are completely wasted in small roles, brought in only to service or lip service Packer’s oft discussed sexual and financial appetite, never deepening his character and sadly never developing any of their own.
This distancing effect works in a lot of the Canadian’s work but sadly is totally misjudged here. The director’s dark humour is only a faint stamp on Cosmopolis and after being beaten over the head with this wordy, cumbersome script, it is sorely missed. The consumerism and capitalism monologues draw little conclusion and are far too convoluted to begin with to be taken that seriously in at all. Things only really come together in the films final scene where Pattinson squares off with a disgruntled employee (Paul Giamatti) in a gun battle of sorts. But awkwardly it feels like an add on, a summary of sorts into Packer, which would have made a far more entertaining and enlightening film on it’s own and is far and away the main strength of Cronenberg’s much awaited return to a Dysotopian future. Though, he might want to leave the room and come in again.
neil @ projectorreview.tumblr.com/