Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Movie Review: Cosmopolis

Cosmopolis *** ½ 
Directed by: David Cronenberg.
Written by: David Cronenberg based on the novel by Don DeLillo.
Starring: Robert Pattinson (Eric Packer), Paul Giamatti (Benno Levin), Sarah Gadon (Elise Shifrin), Juliette Binoche (Didi Fancher), Samantha Morton (Vija Kinsky), Mathieu Amalric (Andre Petrescu), Jay Baruchel (Shiner), Kevin Durand (Torval), Maria Juan Garcias (Nina Brooks), Emily Hampshire (Jane Melman), Zeljko Kecojevic (Danko), Patricia McKenzie (Kendra Hays), Philip Nozuka (Michael Chin), George Touliatos (Anthony).

I can pretty much guarantee that most audiences are going to hate David Cronenberg`s Cosmopolis. It is a film that many will call pretentious, meaningless, stilted and complain that nothing happens. That was perhaps inevitable, since the Dom DeLillo book that Cronenberg has adapted – and pretty much left entirely intact (he makes but two significant cuts) was greeted much the same way when it was released back in 2003. And yet, I loved the novel when I read it last year, and Cronenberg`s film captures the strange, surreal tone of the novel just about perfectly. As well, DeLillo`s novel was released too early – it is a about a Wall Street wonderkid`s spectacular fall, but it was released when everything seemed to going well on the stock market. But now, in the wake of the 2008 Financial Meltdown, whose effects America is still suffering through, it seems eerily plausible. The film has more in common with Mary Harron`s American Psycho, than Margin Call.

The film stars Robert Pattinson as Eric Parker, who has made billions betting on tech stocks in the previous few years – and has now moved on to currency speculation. Everything he sees, all of his models and graphs, show that the yen is going to experience a huge drop, so he has bet everything that it will happen. And yet, inexplicably, the yen keeps going up and up and up. Over the course of the day, he will effectively lose his entire fortune – and yet, he feels oddly liberated by this. As he is destroying himself financially, he`s also destroying himself in nearly every other way as well.

Nearly the entire film is spent inside of Parker`s fancy limo. He is surrounded by screens, keeping him connected to everything that is going on in the outside world – while isolating himself completely from it. He wants to go across town to get a haircut – but is delayed by a Presidential Procession, the funeral of a famous rapper, and an anti-capitalist protest, effectively keeping him inside the limo from morning until night, only reaching his destination late. Through the course of the film, he keeps having meetings inside the limo – with his internet security expert (Jay Baruchel), a younger wonderkid at his company (Philip Nozuka), his older lover (Juliette Binoche), his expert on theory (Samantha Morton), another financial expert (Emily Hampshire) – even his doctor, who gets into his limo to give him his daily checkup, complete with a prostate exam (it`s asymmetrical).  He also meets two assassins – one who works in pastry (Mathieu Amalric), and a former employee who thinks killing Packer may just give meaning to his life (Paul Giamatti). The only two characters who show up repeatedly is Packer`s ever cautious security adviser (Kevin Durand), and his icily cold, trust fund baby wife Elise (Sarah Gadon), who he has been married to for only a few weeks. Every time it`s time for a meal, he seems to find her, and the two talk about their marriage that seems to be more for convenience than anything else- there is certainly no love between them, and she won`t have sex with him, because it affects her `creative energy (she`s a `poet`) – although it doesn’t seem to affect how much sex Parker is having. But as one conversation stretches into another, she becomes perhaps the most human character in the movie – she does not have the ability `not to care`, which is pretty much the exact opposite problem than her husband has.

I mentioned American Psycho at the top of this review, and thematically the two films are linked. Harron`s film takes it capitalist psychopath literally – so that Patrick Bateman is also a serial killer on top of the psychopathology he displays in the business world. And yet, the two films are extremely different in terms of style. Harron`s film is manic and bloody in the extreme, whereas Cronenberg`s film is icy and distant – the dialogue in many ways alienates the viewer – it sounds like written dialogue, and not natural speech. And yet, I think that`s precisely the point. As Parker, Pattinson is quite good. I still have no idea if he is actually a good actor or not, but in this film he has a great screen presence – his flat, emotionless delivery on his lines works perfectly for his character who is drowning in his own apathy. There is nothing that he cares about, and he is going about systematically destroying himself and everything he has created.
Cosmopolis will alienate and infuriate most viewers. Like the limo itself, the film moves at a snail’s pace. Yet, like his masterpiece Crash (another of his films that takes place largely in and around cars), the cold exterior of Cosmopolis is meant, in many ways, to distance the audience from its characters. The effect is eerie and creepy – we view them almost like subjects in some bizarre social experiment gone wrong. You may well hate Cosmopolis – but if you`re like me, you won`t be able to get it out of your head.

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