Rating:Over the course of Cosmopolis, the latest film from David Cronenberg, Robert Pattinson’s Eric Packer takes a ride in his plush limo across New York, has sex with two different women, kills a man, may or may not get killed himself, fights with his wife, has his prostate examined and gets a haircut. I can only imagine the Twihards sitting through this one. There isn’t a hint of glitter in sight.
Based on Don DeLillo’s novel of the same name, Cosmopolis is a provocative and ultimately frustrating odyssey that entails very little physical travel at all. Packer is a young tycoon, living in a completely hermetic world. He is an analogue for our epoch, a time when we communicate and live through handheld devices and chat with disembodied people via a screen in far-flung places without ever leaving the comfort of our homes. Packer’s wealth keeps him in an insulated world, one that is at odds with the chaos occurring outside in the streets below. A sudden whim for a haircut forces him out, sorta, as his souped-up limo prowls the traffic-choked streets (the president is in town and roads are closed). Cronenberg uses intentionally shitty rear projection to show what is going on outside the limo as Packer takes one meeting after another.
This is no ordinary limousine, by the way. Loaded with technology, Packer can keep tabs on his company, receive house calls from a doctor (it has a built-in EKG!), hold meetings with colleagues and stretch out after fucking his mistresses in its roomy interior. Meanwhile, anti-capitalist protests are tearing the streets apart outside. Just one step away from the limo could be dangerous for Packer, especially since there is a “credible threat” out there according to his security detail.
Throughout his journey, Packer continuously runs into his new wife Elise (Sarah Gadon), a rich heiress who yearns for an emotional connection. Each time they meet, however, Packer just badgers her for more sex. As the day progresses, Packer realizes he needs her fortune more and more as a badly placed bet against the Chinese yuan ransacks his own holdings. However, Elise can smell the sex of other women on him and withdraws more with each serendipitous meeting.
The dialogue in Cosmopolis can be jarring, especially those not familiar with DeLillo’s prose. The characters in the film talk like they stepped out of a Mamet play, issuing rapid-fire soliloquies that sometimes sound more insightful and profound than they really are. For such a self-made man, Packer certainly relies on a slew of people to counsel and advise him, but much of the talk falls on deaf ears. It is possible that a lot of it is simply empty. Pattinson sinks his teeth into the role of the impassive tycoon, an important decision that removes him from the direction Twilight co-stars Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner are heading with their respective careers. The biggest problem here is the somewhat unfilmable quality of DeLillo’s words. Long sections of the film are just talk, even during the anticlimactic climax. At times, the film slips away during these moments of discourse, wasting the talent of strong actors such as Samantha Morton, Juliette Binoche and Paul Giamatti. However, Cosmopolis may feature what could be the year’s best cameo by French acting giant Mathieu Amalric.
Almost every review of Cronenberg’s work includes the phrase “body horror” and for the most part, barring a handful of horrifying scenes, Cosmopolis is largely bloodless. In some of Cronenberg’s more recent work, including A Dangerous Method, the director has shifted the horror from the body to the mind. It’s not a coincidence that the ending here takes place in a setting oddly reminiscent to the end of Videodrome, even down to the protagonists pointing a gun on themselves. But as Packer stands to lose everything, Cosmopolis never pulls itself together, sputtering out in a final conversation between Pattinson and Giamatti.
Despite its grim premise, Cosmopolis is darkly comic. Consider the scene where Packer is meeting with his assistant as his physician feels his prostate. Hunched over in front of her, the scene is oddly sexual as the two continue to talk, Pattinson’s face grimacing as the doctor probes his depths. Long live the new flesh!