Movie Review: Cosmopolis

Robert Pattinson as you've never seen him before!

Cosmopolis is David Cronenberg's adaptation of Don DeLillo's nearly unadaptable novel. Because of its style, structure, and near constant, dense discussions of societal issues via unrealistically intelligent dialogue, it's nearly impossible to describe everything Cosmopolis is about after only one viewing to people who haven't yet seen the film. In this review, I'll attempt to describe what Cosmopolis is about after only one viewing to people who likely haven't yet seen the film.

While not totally devoid of the graphic sex and violence that are often found in Cronenberg's most well known works, Cosmopolis is more in line with 2011's A Dangerous Method in that thematic depiction takes a backseat to discussion. Personally, I found Cronenberg's latest effort to be exponentially better than the disappointing A Dangerous Method, which was a tedious, almost unwatchable bore. Cosmopolis opened at this years Cannes Film Festival to sufficiently mixed reviews, which is completely understandable. This is destined to be a polarizing film.

Critics I respect have ranged in opinion from "brilliant" and "masterpiece" to "the biggest disappointment of 2012." While I certainly wouldn't commit wholeheartedly to the type of praise levied by that first group of critics (yet - subsequent viewings are bound to unravel more and more of the spool), my feelings about Cosmopolis definitely sway in that direction. 

What Cosmopolis is "about" is not what Cosmopolis is actually about. What it's "about" is Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson), a late-twenties multi billionaire, who, with the help of his chief of security, decides to traverse a completely gridlocked New York City in the back of his luxury limo because he wants a haircut. What Cosmopolis is actually about is capitalism, wealth, death, time, class distinction, the nature of violence, the state of marriage, and a whole host of other issues. As it happens, Packer has invested heavily in the fall of the Chinese yuan, which continues to rise despite projections suggesting it should be doing the opposite. Thus, he is literally loosing hundreds of millions of dollars as he sits in his limo, although you wouldn't know it by looking at him.

Packer is a cold, detached person: a man desperately trying to feel something ... anything. While he might not appear phased by his failing financials, by "credible threats" on his or the President's life, or by elaborate Occupy Wall Street-esque protests, the thought of losing his youth frightens him to the point of paranoia. He frequently speaks of death, and has daily physicals (including extensive prostate exams) no matter where he is. He is married, only in definition, to a fellow billionaire whom he shares no physical relationship outside of three meals, and an emotional relationship so strained he literally tells her when small talk is being made. We get the feeling that most of Packer's days are quite similar.

On the day that the audience gets a glimpse of, Packer converses with a variety of people from young financial experts, to his art dealer and current mistress, to a disgruntled ex-employee. Sometimes they converse about Packer's situation specifically. Sometimes about the general issues more broadly. Sometimes they speak inside the limo. Sometimes they don't.

Cosmopolis is a really challenging film. It presents many big ideas, most of which it doesn't pretend to know the answers to. Often, characters speak from merely an observatory point of view. Others speak of things they do not understand. Basically all of the dialogue (much of it lifted by Cronenberg straight from the source material) is spoken in ways that no human being would ever speak. It's actually very self aware and borderline pretentious, but that doesn't make it any less thought provoking. What you realize while watching the film is that perhaps many of these discussions have no answer. At least presently.

It's a remarkably contemporary and current film, and is probably the first post-Occupy film to deal heavily with ongoing debate over income inequality and wealth distribution. Protesters in Cosmopolis don't sport Guy Fawkes masks, but they do crowd streets and throw rats around as their symbol of rebellion. They openly refer to the "specter of capitalism."

While ultimately an anti-capitalist film, there is some fairly heavy cynicism behind the motives of those protesting against the wealthy. And while the characters might not speak realistically, the setting most certainly is, perhaps more accurate than many would care to admit. While the inside of Packer's limo looks like a spaceship, the world outside is entirely recognizable. As Packer, Robert Pattinson is ... wait for it ...  really good.

Now, I will say that perhaps the chilly, stone faced Packer is a character that Pattinson's limited acting capability just works with. Regardless, he plays the character exactly as it was meant to be played. And as Packer's facade begins to break down as the film goes on, Pattinson shows ... dare I say ... some legitimate range? He has some excellent counterparts throughout as well, sharing memorable exchanges with the likes of Juliette Binoche, Samantha Morton, and most memorably Paul Giamatti.

If it sounds like I've given away too much, I promise I haven't. I'm not sure this is a film that can be spoiled short of giving a play by play of the final twenty minutes. Cosmopolis is always engaging and interesting, but not always easy to enjoy. However, if you're looking for something that is intellectually stimulating, look no further.


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