by A.J. Hakari
David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis will rub viewers in various wrong ways, not the least of which involves its protagonist being one of the silver screen’s most emotionally barren pricks. But it’s not out of the question to love a film centered around a despicable cast of characters — where would we be if Michael Corleone was a total saint, or if Tony Montana decided to clean up his act? So it goes that Cosmopolis trails a certified douchemobile for a couple of hours, and the self-destructive choices he makes couldn’t be more weird or fascinating.
Robert Pattinson fills the well-buffed shoes of Eric Packer, a young mogul who’s made a fortune in a trade that’s never fully explained to us. What’s important is that Eric has the dough to buy out God ten times over and the power to assemble a perpetual stream of yes men. From his stretch limo/base of operations, he thrives in a state of paranoid delusion, keeping obsessive tabs on his company’s security and not letting congested traffic prevent him from getting a haircut he doesn’t even really need. But on this day, the amount of sway Eric thinks he has over the market and those around him is put to the test. Forces are converging to knock Eric’s well-balanced world out of whack, and it’s how our increasingly unhinged Wall Street warrior reacts that will decide how much of an empire he has left come tomorrow.
Cosmopolis will be as difficult for Pattinson’s swooning herds of Twilight groupies to absorb as it will be for those familiar with the offbeat webs Cronenberg regularly weaves. His world (based on Don DeLillo’s novel) is one in which nothing is straightforward, in which the dialogue consists of cryptic riddles and all characters embody some degree of stiff unreality. Will it drive you batty? Most likely. Does it serve a purpose? Yeah, but other pictures have been more subdued with or played up similar subject matter to greater effect. But what this style does accomplish is making Cosmopolis harder to pin down and, in turn, more interesting to watch. With everyone you see so deluded and self-assured in their own ways, who knows what will come to pass when the rug is slowly tugged away under them.
Eric’s road trip of excess and emptiness turns up appearances by a number of familiar faces. Most last but a single fleeting scene, but impressions are left, especially by Juliette Binoche as Eric’s art guru (and one of many sexual trysts), Samantha Morton as a financial theoretician, and Mathieu Amalric as an “assassin” whose weapon of choice is a pie (just roll with it). Each of these pit stops nudges Eric closer to the edge, although our story make the compelling argument that he really is asking for it. Enter Pattinson, whom I’ve used and will likely employ as a punching bag in the future, but who does impressive work in burying what makes Eric tick beneath a vain veneer. On the outset, he’s a typical upper-class jackhole just daring for the fates to pay him back for his total lack of humanity…until you realize that’s precisely what he wants. I won’t say much, except that what transpires is no regular power trip but the most spectacularly bizarre cry for help you’ve ever seen.
Cosmopolis won’t be an easy watch, but the nice, long period of reflection you’ll need when it’s over will do you wonders. Beneath the loopy images on which Cronenberg can be depended to provide are loads of social subtext to chew on, like a surrealist adaptation of a Bret Easton Ellis work. Shallow sex, giant rats, and all, Cosmopolis has the content to support a production as unconventional as the one that Cronenberg proudly presents.