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!

Quote Unquotesee all »

This is probably going to sound petty, but Martin Scorsese insisting that critics see his film in theaters even though it’s going straight to Netflix and then not screening it in most American cities was a watershed moment for me in this theatrical versus streaming debate.

I completely respect when a filmmaker insists that their movie is meant to be seen in the theater, but the thing is, you got to actually make it possible to see it in the theater. Some movies may be too small for that, and that’s totally OK.

When your movie is largely financed by a streaming service and is going to appear on that streaming service instantly, I don’t really see the point of pretending that it’s a theatrical film. It just seems like we are needlessly indulging some kind of personal fantasy.

I don’t think that making a feature film length production that is going to go straight to a video platform is some sort of “step down.“ I really don’t. Theatrical exhibition as we know it is dying off anyway, for a variety of reasons.

I should clarify myself because this thread is already being misconstrued — I’m talking about how the movie is screened in advance. If it’s going straight to Netflix, why the ritual of demanding people see it in the theater?

There used to be a category that everyone recognized called “TV movie” or “made for television movie” and even though a lot of filmmakers considered that déclassé, it seems to me that probably 90% of feature films fit that description now.

Atlantis has mostly sunk into the ocean, only a few tower spires remain above the waterline, and I’m increasingly at peace with that, because it seems to be what the industry and much of the audience wants. We live in an age of convenience and information control.

Only a very elite group of filmmakers is still allowed to make movies “for theaters“ and actually have them seen and judged that way on a wide scale. Even platform releasing seems to be somewhat endangered. It can’t be fought. It has to be accepted.

9. Addendum: I’ve been informed that it wasn’t Scorsese who requested that the Bob Dylan documentary only be screened for critics in theaters, but a Netflix representative indicated the opposite to me, so I just don’t know what to believe.

It’s actually OK if your film is not eligible for an Oscar — we have a thing called the Emmys. A lot of this anxiety is just a holdover from the days when television was considered culturally inferior to theatrical feature films. Everybody needs to just get over it.

In another 10 to 20 years they’re probably going to merge the Emmys in the Oscars into one program anyway, maybe they’ll call it the Contentys.

“One of the fun things about seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film three months early in Cannes (did I mention this?) is that I know exactly why it’s going to make some people furious, and thus I have time to steel myself for the takes.

Back in July 2017, when it was revealed that Tarantino’s next project was connected to the Manson Family murders, it was condemned in some quarters as an insulting and exploitative stunt. We usually require at least a fig-leaf of compassion for the victims in true-crime adaptations, and even Tarantino partisans like myself – I don’t think he’s made a bad film yet – found ourselves wondering how he might square his more outré stylistic impulses with the depiction of a real mass murder in which five people and one unborn child lost their lives.

After all, it’s one thing to slice off with gusto a fictional policeman’s ear; it’s quite another to linger over the gory details of a massacre that took place within living memory, and which still carries a dread historical significance.

In her essay The White Album, Joan Didion wrote: “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true.”

Early in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters drive up the hill towards Leo’s bachelor pad, the camera cranes up gently to reveal a street sign: Cielo Drive. Tarantino understands how charged that name is; he can hear the Molotov cocktails clinking as he shoulders the crate.

As you may have read in the reviews from Cannes, much of the film is taken up with following DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters – a fading TV actor and his long-serving stunt double – as they amusingly go about their lives in Los Angeles, while Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a relatively minor presence. But the spectre of the murders is just over the horizon, and when the night of the 9th finally arrives, you feel the mood in the cinema shift.

No spoilers whatsoever about what transpires on screen. But in the audience, as it became clear how Tarantino was going to handle this extraordinarily loaded moment, the room soured and split, like a pan of cream left too long on the hob. I craned in, amazed, but felt the person beside me recoil in either dismay or disgust.

Two weeks on, I’m convinced that the scene is the boldest and most graphically violent of Tarantino’s career – I had to shield my eyes at one point, found myself involuntarily groaning “oh no” at another – and a dead cert for the most controversial. People will be outraged by it, and with good reason. But in a strange and brilliant way, it takes Didion’s death-of-the-Sixties observation and pushes it through a hellfire-hot catharsis.

Hollywood summoned up this horror, the film seems to be saying, and now it’s Hollywood’s turn to exorcise it. I can’t wait until the release in August, when we can finally talk about why.

~ Robbie Collin