Grade: 72 (B)
In an age where John Carpenter and Wes Craven have become pale imitations of their former selves, David Cronenberg has remained one of the most fascinating directors of his generation. Part of that comes from his decision to move on from the body horror that defined his work in the 70s and 80s (his one full return to the genre since, 1999’s eXistenZ, was a disappointment), but it mostly comes from his adventurousness as a filmmaker. Where one year will see a meat-and-potatoes gangster film (Eastern Promises), another produces a film about Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung (A Dangerous Method). Cronenberg’s new film Cosmopolis, an adaptation of Don DeLillo novel, isn’t his best film in recent memory (that would be 2005’s A History of Violence), but it is to some degree his most experimental, and for that it should be cherished in spite of its shortcomings.
Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) is a young billionaire in Manhattan. Packer decides to ride across town for a haircut from his favorite barber, even though A. the President’s visit means heavy traffic, and B. he doesn’t really need a haircut. Accompanied by his bodyguard (Kevin Durand), Packer uses his limousine as an office, meeting with his employees (Jay Baruchel, Emily Hampshire), his chief adviser (Samantha Morton), his art consultant/mistress (Juliette Binoche), and occasionally his new wife (Sarah Gadon), who refuses to have sex with him. Packer’s finances deplete from a bad business decision while the masses outside his limousine rage, and his journey culminates when he meets a homicidal former employee (Paul Giamatti).
This is Cronenberg’s talkiest movie next to A Dangerous Method, but Cosmopolis works better in that understanding the dialogue is less essential to the plot here- it’s a sign of the inhumanity of the individuals involved. All are more connected to their insular world of dollars and cents than to people, with the sterility and insularity of the limousine contrasting perfectly with the collapsing world outside. If anything, the production delays of the film helped Cronenberg and company- they’ve crafted a great look at the disparity between the 1% and the 99%.
Cronenberg is aided by a game cast- Baruchel, Binoche, Durand, and Morton are all excellent. Pattinson is even stronger as a man who practically doesn’t even know how to be human, and who needs extreme measures (i.e., shooting a hole in his own hand, falling from extreme wealth) to feel it. In a sense, it’s a continuation of the themes Cronenberg explored in Crash, only with a slightly less oppressive atmosphere. Like Crash, only one character feels fully human- Giamatti, whose real problems and flopsweat contrasts with the robotic nature of the other characters. Strangely, Cosmopolis has the opposite problem of Crash. In the earlier film, Elias Koteas’ Vaughan was a much-needed jolt of energy to the sometimes comically detached performances of Holly Hunter and James Spader. Here, Giamatti doesn’t quite work. He’s believable in the role, and Cronenberg plays a clever game by making the only American in the main cast (everyone else is either Canadian or European) the least detached of the bunch. But his humanity breaks the odd, creepy tone the rest of the film, which is problematic considering that his conversations with Pattinson make up the last twenty or thirty minutes. Until that point, though, Cosmopolis is as hypnotic and exciting a film as Cronenberg has made in ages.
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