By Jake Howell jake.howell@utoronto.ca

Cannes Competition review: Cosmopolis

David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis is a complex and incredibly nuanced film that adapts its source material handily, representing Don DeLillo’s novel with cinematic specificity and Cronenbergian methodology. Multiple viewings will be required to fully grapple (and perhaps enjoy) the result, but the film’s incredible dialogue and insightful rhetoric will challenge audiences in the best way.

Cosmopolis revolves around Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson), a young, hot-shot, self-destructive billionaire who embarks on a journey across town to get a haircut. Packer travels by stretch limousine, an inappropriate method of transportation in a busy metropolis like Manhattan, but it symbolizes power and importance in a way no other vehicle can. It’s a status thing. When his day is upended by riots in a city filled with economic unrest, the rest of his adventure becomes an odyssey that is better left seen than described.

Audiences going to see Cosmopolis because of Robert Pattinson’s involvement may be severely disappointed, because the trailer for the film is deceiving. The promotional clips show glimpses of the film’s “exciting” scenes, but these moments are found less frequently than one would expect. This shouldn’t disappoint, because there is a healthy amount of disturbing action—this is a Cronenberg film, after all—but these spikes of intensity happen only after lengthy conversations filled with philosophical banter and rhetorical questioning. In other words, the riveting moments in Cosmopolis aren’t exactly the selling point —but the dialogue might be.

If you’re still up for the ride, Cronenberg sits you down in Eric Packer’s limousine and pours you a drink. You’re going to be here a while, and you’re going to talk about things coolly and calmly. You know; hash things out. The world outside is imploding, but do your best to ignore the calamity occurring around you. You’re inside, you’re safe, and you’re in in the company of powerful people as you ride in a luxurious soundproof limousine. So sit back and enjoy your drink, but make sure you pay attention: there are bigger issues at play here, like the specter of capitalism that haunts the people of the world. Oh, and someone wants to kill Eric Packer.

While Cosmopolis is satirical, it’s better described as a dark elucidation of modern society. Both the film and the novel are absurd because of the way certain characters speak and act, but what’s depicted isn’t all that farfetched. In fact, there’s nothing overtly science fiction about how Eric Packer lives his life or how his world functions, which makes the result of this story all the more interesting. Packer’s billionaire status is the result of ruining others—a melancholic Mitt Romney, say—but he isn’t just the corporate vampire that some audiences may want to interpret him as. He’s a man, he’s mortal, and he wants to feel something more than empty sex and endless riches. And goddammit, he also wants a haircut.

DeLillo’s Manhattan envisioned in Cosmopolis is decidedly dystopian, but it only takes a slight stretching of the logical causalities of capitalism to see how we could find ourselves here one day. When you think about it, it’s actually kind of scary. There’s a lot to explore here, but the most important thing is that Cosmopolis is all too relevant: from the real-world protests of Occupy Wall Street to global markets falling because of risky, greedy business, Cosmopolis discusses a gamut of current economic topics and philosophies. What’s really interesting is that DeLillo wrote the novel in 2003 —long, long before Occupy Wall Street was even conceived and became a worldwide reaction to the horrors of unchecked capitalism. It’s apparent the novel was prescient in many ways, but the film version finds itself landing upon a society that needs—and actively wants—to hear what Cosmopolis has to say. The film is an existential look of how our economy works, while commenting on other philosophies and ideologies in the wake.

Robert Pattinson’s Eric Packer solidifies what some critics have suspected for a while now: the dude is more than a perfectly-chiseled face. Pattinson likely gets a bad rap because Twilight’s source material is inherently ridiculous, but there’s little the actors involved with that series can do to improve it. Cannes 2012 is an interesting year for both Kristen Stewart and Pattinson, because they are doing what they can to remove the baggage of their shared vampiric past. I’m inclined to say they’ve both succeeded. Talking about Stewart’s performance in On The Road should be saved for a review of that film, but the strength of Pattinson’s Packer is enough to separate the actor from the insanity of Stephenie Meyer fandom.

It’s unclear right now whether or not Cosmopolis is a definitive Wall Street film, because the pacing could be torment for audiences unwilling to listen to the various exchanges in and outside Packer’s limousine. Yes, Cosmopolis can feel long, but it’s also very tight: DeLillo’s original dialogue is lifted from the book, and the film is all the better for it. The discussions might not be gory or explosive, but the lines are exciting in their own way‹think sexy and snappy; crisp and crazy. The script might not initially induce the “good movie chills” cinemagoers eternally lust after, but there’s a lot to take in here, and a second viewing is definitely warranted. When audiences aren’t busy piecing together the narrative, it will be easier to enjoy the juicy critiques of society and rhetorical reflections in Cosmopolis, of which there are plenty.

One Response to “Cannes Competition review: Cosmopolis”

  1. Mark says:

    I loved the book, and I cannot wait for the movie. Eric Parker is Gordon Gekko for the Y generation…Delillo captures perfectly the anti-elitist movements of the early 2010s…years ahead of its actual happening. Cronenberg is absolutely an appropriate choice to bring this novel to life. I can’t wait!

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“Well, actually, of that whole group that I call the post-60s anti-authority auteurs, a lot of them came from television. Peckinpah’s the only one whose television work represents his feature work. I mean, like the only one. Mark Rydell can direct a really good episode of ‘Gunsmoke’ and Michael Ritchie can direct a really good episode of ‘The Big Valley,’ but they don’t necessarily look like The Candidate. But Peckinpah’s stuff, even the scripts he wrote that he didn’t even direct, have a Peckinpah feel – the way I think there’s a Corbucci West – suggest a Peckinpah West. That even in his random episodes that he wrote for ‘Gunsmoke’ – it’s right there.”
~ Quentin Tarantino

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