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This latest film by director David Cronenberg, coming in on the back of "A Dangerous Method" sees him back on more familiar ground as he returns with his adaptation of Don DeLillo's titular novel, which follows Robert Pattison's 28 year old Billionaire asset manager Eric Packer, as he travels across New York in his impenetrable stretch limo to get a haircut at his childhood barber.
Clearly trying to break away from the shiny vampire nonsense of the "Twilight" saga, Pattinson stars here in a role which was originally going to be played by Colin Farrell, until scheduling conflicts with the recent "Total Recall" remake forced him to drop out and leaving the role open for Patterson who continues here with his ongoing mission to try and find roles as far away from the role of Edward Cullen as possible, especially with this film being one of his more experimental performances, something I don't think most of the Robert Pattinson fans (or most of the audience at the screening I attended) realised judging by how many people I saw walking out of this film, a scene all to reminiscent of those I saw while watching "Drive". It is certainly worth noting that this is far from the most action packed of films, especially considering how it is a film driven by its dialogue rather than the events which happen within it's runtime.
For myself DeLillo has always been an author I have found to be largely impenetrable, despite many of his books such as the 823 page epic "Underworld" being highly regarded, they have never truly managed to capture my interest, so I was especially curious going into this film to see if this was down to how DeLillo presents his stories or if it was just the writing itself which I was having the problem with. Still seeing how Cronenberg had managed to adapt William Burroughs equally impenetrable "Naked Lunch" with shall we say interesting results, I was hopeful if anyone could make it work it would be him. So did he? Well the results are mixed to say the least for while the film looks absolutely stunning, the verbal masturbation of the film does ultimately mean that it never really goes beyond we world we see out of the windows of Packer's limo, bar the occasional diversion to one of the numerous diners which Packer visits along on his journey. Still from this view point we witness civil unrests as anarchists take to the street, with the rat being used as their new symbol of revolt aswell as an elaborate funeral procession of Packer's favourite rapper. Yet despite the chaos which erupts outside of his limo, this protective cocoon means that Packer remains in a constant state of calm, even as he fritters away his fortune on the rapidly declining currency known as the Chinese Yuan, all over the course of one day.
Packer's limo is frequently shown as less his preferred mode of transport, but more the throne from which he controls his empire, especially when it is seemingly equipped for any need he might have, as he controls trades and monitors changes in the market via touch screens located in the backseats, while also using the limo as a base for the numerous meetings he holds with a variety of characters which form the bulk of the story, when he is not engaging in casual sex with one of his mistresses or even at one part having a prostate exam carried out. It is packers discussions with his personal bodyguard (Kevin Durand) though which keep us most informed about what is happening in the real world, something Packer seems overly detached from thanks to his position and status which his fortune has earned him, yet at the same time would appear to be suffocating him slowly, as he seeks random acts of violence such as randomly requesting that one of his mistresses tazer him so that he can feel something.
The cast are all good in their various roles, even if what they might be doing might be less than stimulating for some viewers, especially when so many characters speak so monotone, it can at times make it much of a slog to get through, especially when the film is driven by its dialogue. This will no doubt prove especially frustrating to the Pattinson fans, as he remains an actor severely in need of the right kind of mentor to hone his performances, for while watchable enough here it often feels that he is far from stretching himself, especially when Packer is seemingly on autopilot for the majority of the film. Still more bizarrely it is those within the cast playing potential threats to Packer that prove to the most interesting with Mathiew Amalric appearing as a serial custard pie thrower, whose random monologue was easily one of my favourite moments of the film, while Paul Giamatti's stalker Benno makes for a slightly bewildering and unpredictable climax, especially when the film seemingly just ends rather than reaching any form of solid conclusion, for those who have stuck around this far, which as I looked around the theatre was probably around 5% of the audience that had started the film.
Perhaps if I wasn't such a fan of Cronenberg's work I might not have stuck this one out, as at it's strongest it remains a curiosity, though unwitting it would seem with "Cosmopolis" Cronenberg, has finally given us a companion piece to Richard Kelly's underrated "Southland Tales", whose randomness also baffled many who actually saw it, while strangely charming some like myself something I was hoping for here, yet like DeLillo's books it frequently seems to get caught up with how clever its writing is, that it forgets such things such as emotional dialogue which is honestly were the main fault of the film lies. Perhaps this was intentional with some highbrow literacy reason which certainly went over my head, but it is at the same time only further credit that Cronenberg is still making films the way he wants to, as shown by his fierce determination to provide as true an adaptation as possible here, while no doubt creating a film which will be pondered over like his adaptation of "Naked Lunch" as a strange yet occasionally wonderful curiosity, but be warned that this is one film which is not for everyone and perhaps only the few.
Robert Pattinson must be a busy man thanks to what must be a tight schedule taking on the lead role of the worldwide phenomenon, the "Twilight" franchise as that moody vampire. During his spare time though it seems, he is trying to distance himself from the vampire role as far as possible. And he has managed just that in David Cronenberg's "Cosmopolis," a highly challenging, dense and wordy piece that simply cannot be summed up into a mere sentence or two. Having seen the film, I wonder just how complex the book this is based on must be. Cronenberg did one heck of a job adapting this to the big screen (more impressively, he completed the script in less than a week), a task not many directors/writers would have been able to complete without some sort of a nervous breakdown. Put it this way, Twihards, i.e. teenage girls, will not find this film to their liking, nor will this be in any way appropriate for them.
To understand Eric Packer (Pattinson), the first thing we need to know is that he is rich. Filthy rich. His limousine is equipped with all sorts of convenient fancy gadgets, and is supposedly impenetrable. He appears to be in charge of a finance company, investing and dealing in currency. He wants, rather than needs, a haircut. He insists on travelling in his limo to the opposite side of Manhattan, a task made more problematic by the size of his personliased vehicle. His security adviser (Kevin Durand) is wary of any potential risks to his safety. He is the classic 1% of America that everyone hates. And exposure won't be any good for a young billionaire in his 20s who many anti-Capitalism protesters won't have a problem harming.
So what could be so fascinating or worthy of your time about the journey of some rich guy to the barbershop? Along the way, he has guests, many guests who visit him in his limo to discuss matters. He occasionally steps out too, mostly for his wife who he hardly knows, and to ask her for sex, since they haven't done it in quite some time. "You smell of sex," she says, fully aware of his extra-marital dalliances. The limo is fully functional in the sense that it perfectly serves all the needs of our protagonist like a reliable capsule. He could survive in there for months, satisfying his sexual, materialistic, intellectual, health and financial curiosities with many of his employees.
A lot of what is said is complex stuff. There is a lot of talk on economics, philosophy, sex, psychology and with very little music to move scenes along, what this can sometimes feel like is reading a novel. A very difficult one. Much like the grid-locked streets of Manhattan Packer has to travel through, Cronenberg moves his film at a glacial pace, and does so unapologetically. The journey is further disrupted by the aforementioned protestors, who quite understandably hate the sight of a swanky limo and decide to rock it, spray on it, and news of the President of the United States' visit causes further unrest. But Packer feels more than confident and secure in his vehicle. Seated at the head of the limo like a king on his throne, he receives his visitors like any normal day. Pattinson, who has put decent performances on screen outside his usual franchise, is again, decent here. He is the selfish, childish, egoistical, arrogant rich boy whose sole purpose in life is to find ways to make more money. This makes him secluded and isolated from the rest of society, and his closed off limo is the perfect shelter for him to concentrate in. He is of course, protected in there, but has few connections to the outside world; cut off and lonely.
The first person we meet is Shiner (Jay Baruchel), a tech-whiz, cyber security expert who insists the company's computer systems are safe from penetration. For someone that rich and a lot to lose, he is naturally paranoid, not fully convinced that his status and company are forever indestructible. His saucy encounter with Didi (Juliette Binoche) leads to interesting discussions on materialism and how he wants to buy a church that has valuable paintings inside. He leaves it to his dealer to offer up any price. Because if there is one thing you can count on Packer doing, is to afford things, no matter how much. Whatever he wants, he gets, and that's the way he has forever known things. He has a doctor visit him on a daily basis to give him a health check-up, and more bizarrely, as he is given a rectal examination, he decides to flirt with a female employee who had to come in to see him despite her day-off.
Most interesting and thought-provoking however, is his chief adviser (Samantha Morton), who carefully and comprehensibly explains the reasons behind why Capitalism is facing demise, and how the people are concerned about moving forward into the unstable future, as few individuals such as Packer himself change the course of history with their everyday impulsive financial decisions that unknowingly impact millions of people's lives. The long monologue, spoken so eloquently and fluidly by Morton, despite the heavy-handed, monotonous dialogue and no real dramatisation you would expect from a screenplay, is quite possibly the most fascinating scene of the film, with its scene length judged just correctly.
His several encounters with his wife (Sarah Gadon), whom he met through arranged marriage, is also awkward and uncomfortable ones, as she critiques the flaws in his personality, in what he does for a living, and ultimately the non-existent love or passion in their marriage.
We see Packer step out permanently in the final act, in which he foolishly decides to face a disgruntled ex-employee Benno (Paul Giamatti) in his rather disgusting flat. This leads to even more philosophical discussions, but this time with guns involved making matters more pressing and Packer desperate for some sort of resolve. Throughout the film, Cronenberg lays out the many and steady steps that Packer takes that leads to his self-destruction. First he starts making the wrong bets at work, and his company starts losing money, the kind of money the 99% of us cannot even begin to imagine, his marriage is on the rocks, he starts feeling hollow and empty, so far to the point he asks a bodyguard who he later sleeps with, to shoot him with a high-voltage taser gun. Him stepping out of the car, somehow deluded into believing that he can walk the streets of Manhattan on his own in the middle of the night, shows further downfall. His face-off with Benno can truly be seen as the final showdown he will ever have to face.
Not everyone will enjoy this type of slow and talky film. And due to its incredibly slow pace, the film feels unnecessarily long, and despite the good performances, the restricted, claustrophobic atmosphere does nothing to add any long-term appeal. It feels impressive at first for sure, but when you realise that very little will actually happen, you want the characters to get a move on. And the dialogue could have used some brushing up, in order to produce something more concise and to the point. Because when the script feels this laboured and long-winded, a lot of what could have had plenty of impact feels diluted and is full of hits and misses. You need to be in the right mindset, and must be ready to really listen to everything everyone says. The film is not without its pretentious moments, but does have enough intriguing ideas it wants to get across.