Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, Samantha Morton, Paul Giamatti, Mathieu Amalric, Sarah Gadon
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY
David Cronenberg (based upon novel by Don DeLillo)
To be certain, finding a way to transfer author Don DeLillo's dense and transformationally judgmental indictment of what we now know as the 1% is no small task. On the written page, Cosmopolis is a heavy work with so many layers that it practically demands that you chew on it piece by piece and digest its words and imagery over a period of time. I can't fathom having an instantaneous response to Cosmopolis in its written form, though I'm now equally as certain that even a masterful and intellectual filmmaker like David Cronenberg can't quite bring the novel's fullness to the big screen in a way that truly captures the full spectrum of ideas being presented.
It was a bold choice casting Twilight pretty boy Robert Pattinson in the lead here as a self-absorbed, self-made billionaire whose every action seems devoid of emotion or passion-driven intent. In all honesty, Pattinson is much better than one might expect in the role, his calm and collected persona well chosen to portray a man whose wealth and increasingly self-destructive impulses seem to have woven themselves together in creating a soulless creature devoid of emotions good or bad. Yet, there's more going on within Pattinson's Eric Packer, and as his character becomes increasingly complex the cracks in Pattinson's range as an actor begin to show themselves and the power that is trying to crawl out from the crevices of Cronenberg's film becomes muted as the film's dialogue-driven thrills and intrigue begin to sound like the psychotic babbling that so often accompanies intellectually masturbatory cinema.
Cosmopolis is most likely the kind of film where those who "get it" pat themselves on the back and scoff condescendingly at those who speak negatively of the film because they just don't "get it."
I do "get it."
I also get that, despite an admirable effort and a clear vision for the film, Cronenberg, perhaps one of a handful of directors who could have pulled this film off, simply falls short by maintaining too much faithfulness to the source material and by creating a film that becomes so surreal that its true impact is never felt.
If you've read DeLillo's source material, as I have, then you have a fairly clear picture of the surreal yet extremely pointed world that DeLillo created on the page. The film captures the surreal nature of DeLillo's language, but it falls woefully short in nailing DeLillo's absolutely relentless take on the destructive nature of wealth that is inherent and without exception. Cronenberg's version of that message at times plays like Mr. Hand going "Money is bad. Mmmm'kay?"
The good news is that Cosmopolis is Pattinson's most complex and layered performance yet, a surefire sign that there's tremendous promise within the actor and that he remains likely to have a successful post-Twilight career in Hollywood even if it never again quite soars to his current heights of popularity. While Pattinson can't quite grasp at the emotional range needed to make Eric Packer a truly compelling character, he succeeds in making Packer, at minimum, an interesting curiosity worth watching.
The film opens with Packer deciding on a whim to travel across Manhattan in his limo because he needs a haircut, a decision that meets with the disapproval of his head of security, Torval (Kevin Durand), who is aware of a security threat against Packer and the already jammed Manhattan traffic thanks to a presidential motorcade. Packer, being the infantile presence that he is, won't have anyone reject his desires and heads out anyway. Over the next nearly two hours running time of the film, Packer's limo stops and starts and is periodically joined by an odd assortment of folks ranging from Shiner (Jay Baruchel), his techy partner who still possesses a soul, to his art dealer (Juliette Binoche), his theorist (Samantha Morton), his financial advisor (Emily Hampshire) and, in the end, Benno (Paul Giamatti), a former employee with a serious grudge and desire for justice.
Peter Suschitzky's cinematography is nothing short of amazing, painting the film in surreal colors and tones that emphasize the very different world that exists right outside of Packer's limo. Howard Shore's original score drives home that difference, with a score that is alternately dramatic and unsettling. Arvinder Grewal's production design companions all of this quite nicely though, once again, Cosmopolis is more successful at capturing the surreal nature of DeLillo's vision than it is connecting the surreal to the very real.
While none of the film's performances are weak, other than the performance of Pattinson the majority of folks seen here come and go rather quickly with one serious scene in which to leave an impression. For the most part, an impression is simply not left with the possible exceptions of Juliette Binoche and the always dependable Paul Giamatti.
While Cosmopolis is far from a failure, it is somewhat disappointing given Cronenberg's thoughtful and visionary history as a filmmaker and the unshakeable truth that he's one of the few directors who could have tackled this literary work and this subject matter successfully. Unfortunately, Cronenberg falls shy here and this cinematic vision for Cosmopolis ends up giving audiences only a glimpse into the very real world painted so much more powerfully by DeLillo.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic