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Film Review: Cosmopolis
Dir. David Cronenberg
There are those that would view the pairing of the coldly intellectual filmmaker David Cronenberg with the coldly intellectual novelist Don Delilio as a blend of both strychnine and arsenic — death by emotional remove — but instead of a lifeless, didactic polemic, Cronenberg’s adaptation of Delilo’s 2003 novel is peculiarly arresting, despite its many narrative peculiarities.
Essentially, we have a day in the life of a Manhattan financial overlord. Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) is, when we meet him, about to head out in one of his specially modified limos to travel crosstown for a haircut. With a perfect suit and sneering visage behind a pair of dark glasses, he’s nothing less than the embodiment of the one percenter’s complete disassociation from the rest of humanity. Sitting in a techno-throne of black leather with touch-sensitive computer screens built into the armrests, he resembles the coldly ambitious commander of a Starfleet spacecraft. Meeting with various underlings and mistresses — and, occasionally, hopping out for meals with his newlywed bride (Sarah Gadon) — he conducts all business through his relentless ego.
The effect of the film, with all of these characters spinning in and out of Eric’s orbit as he very slowly makes his way across town, is a bit like Richard Linklater meeting Samuel Beckett. Every conversation has a strident philosophical tone, and underlying thread of Eric’s philosophical musings on the nature of commerce, capital and the human condition.
Needless to say, this is not a film ever intended to be realistic, per se. It’s a film of Big Ideas, almost a fairy tale, albeit one that includes sex, violence, and one of the more uncomfortable proctology exams ever committed to celluloid, digital or otherwise. Eric, who begins the film so stuffed with himself he employs the royal plural without a hint of irony or regret and by the end is covered with blood, sweat and the remnants of a cream pie in a squatter’s flophouse, stands to represent all the conscienceless callousness with which big business empires are forged.
He likes to speak in existentially pedantic musings (“A haircut is what? Associations.” and, later, “The logical extension of business is murder”) and indulge his hypochondria with daily full medicals, in-between bouts of rancorous sex with a bevy of women whom are not his wife, including the wife (Patricia McKenzie) of his head of security (Kevin Durand), who dutifully strides next to the slow-moving limo, only tapping on the window glass to warn Eric of further dangers. Eric is obsessed with “cybercapital,” notably the single most ethereal form of wealth.
His gradual undoing as the film unfolds — in the course of this day, he loses all his money on a bad bet on the Yuan, his wife leaves him, he commits murder and is stalked by a would-be assassin he can’t identify — strips bare the coddling protective cover of commerce, leaving only a scrawny, battered little man in a dirty shirt, awaiting his fate at the hands of a former employee (Paul Giamatti) who wants to put him out of his existential misery.
As is his want, Cronenberg is fully content to let his piteous characters thrash around blindly in the cold, harsh world of ideas they’ve created for themselves. The surprising thing is how effective he is in playing to Pattinson’s strengths. Despite the pretty boy preening to which his global fame can be attributed in his turn as the despotic Edward in the execrable <i>Twlight</i> series, the young actor shows some considerable chops here, in about as balloon-pricking of a performance as I can remember. It is, after all, not so difficult to play superior as an actor with the kind of fame as he possesses, a much different thing to take that fame and turn it on its ear. It might not have been the kind of role his agent would have been enthusiastic about, but from this vantage point, it’s a serious step in the right direction.