“Cosmopolis” is proof that a film can be provocative yet completely un-enjoyable.
Robert Pattinson has evolved from playing the walking dead in the grossly popular “Twilight” series to capitalism’s walking dead in David Cronenberg’s latest labyrinthine mind-trip. Cronenberg is no slouch when it comes to his choice of projects and the atonal, emotionless and vapid “Cosmopolis” may be his most challenging film yet.
Based on the novel by Don DeLillo, “Cosmopolis” is one of the harshest critiques of capitalism and modern society to appear on film. Here is Cronenberg’s sardonic, hallucinatory and deeply twisted high school economics class on crack. Completely detached from society and devoid of emotional connection to any living person, 28 year-old multibillionaire Eric Packer, with catastrophic consequences, single-handedly contributes to the collapse of the international economy by betting his vast fortune against the Chinese Yuan. Without a care in the world, he decides to ride across a rioting Manhattan in his technologically advanced and connected stretch limo to get a haircut. “Cosmopolis” is the great contradiction. As Packer seeks solitude and power through numerical balance, the scale is drastically tipped creating an explosive and violent imbalance. As the nightmarish odyssey progresses and Packer bleeds money, he rendezvouses with a series of bizarre characters, from mistresses, proctologists, computer wiz kids and his equally emotionless spouse, that come and go through his mobile office.
Cronenberg is a master of the uncomfortable and “Cosmopolis” fits snugly in his oeuvre with its examination of the effects of infinite power. One of the most striking moments in the film has Packer having cocktails and bland, vacant conversation with an associate (Samantha Morton) as rioters outside the limousine immolate themselves. As the two look on over drinks, they can only think of why these people would choose such an unoriginal sacrifice.
Packer is a frightening character for a wealth of reasons. Oblivious of other living people, his perspective is only that of balance within numbers and dollar signs, which cannot peacefully co-exist in an imbalanced capitalist society made up of individuals, thus breeding chaos. The only semblance of emotion we do see from Packer is a superficial breakdown over the death of a rapper; DeLillo and Cronenberg’s jab at our deification of the celebrity.
Ninety percent of the film is shot inside Packer’s limo, which gives a claustrophobic feel to both the film and Pattinson’s performance. The spit-fire dialogue is identical to DeLillo’s book, a window through which we see the dueling emptiness of Packer’s mind and the crumbling world outside. The film is formatted as one distressing vignette after another until it culminates in a violent, misanthropic finale.
Pattinson’s portrayal of the soulless, empty Packer is unpleasantly remarkable. It’s a crude performance to an even cruder character. Though Packer is as dead inside as the “Twilight” sucker, Pattinson has shown a chilling range in craft.
Orbiting Pattinson are fine supporting actors, especially Paul Giamatti with a juicy performance as Packer’s disgruntled ex-employee who is hunting his former boss.
“Cosmopolis” is certainly an experience: a dark, cynical look at power, greed and youth, and Cronenberg should be commended for having the guts to find an audience for this film, because it is doubtful there really is one. For a film about the vast waste of money and life, perhaps some dough could have been saved by adapting a more cinematic DeLillo book for the screen. Though an oddly unique experience “Cosmopolis” may be, it is without a doubt a unpleasant one.