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Thursday, June 14, 2012

Canadian Film Review: Cosmopolis (2012)

* *

Director: David Cronenberg
Starring: Robert Pattinson

David Cronenberg is probably best known for, for lack of a better word, "weird" movies, movies that challenge because they subvert expectations in terms of narrative form and because of the directness with which many of them deal with themes of sexuality and sexual taboo. Although his work has remained challenging and his preoccupation with sex as a theme has remained, in the last decade his output (A History of Violence, Eastern Promises and A Dangerous Method) has been slightly more in line with the mainstream and far less weird. Cosmopolis marks a return to the weird, albeit not an entirely successful one. It has a lot of ideas, certainly, and isn't without its saving graces, but it never really gets itself off the ground.

Put simply, Cosmopolis is about Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson), a young billionaire who wants to get a haircut. His journey is delayed by a Presidential visit which slows down traffic, as well as by various meetings that he holds in his stretch limo, and by his continuing attempts to get his wife (Elise Shifrin) to agree to have sex with him. Someone is out to kill him, though he doesn't seem to care too much about that, and his fortune is steadily slipping away throughout the day due to a currency speculation gone very bad. He doesn't seem to care too much about that, either. Mostly he's just concerned about the sex he's not having with his wife, though he does have sex with several other women throughout the course of the day.

As the day progresses, the threat to his life starts to become more real, though by this point death is something he would perhaps welcome. He's a man who has the means to have his every need and whim met and nothing excites or surprises him anymore. He's so numb and closed off to the world around him that only pain can really rouse him and at one point he asks one of his conquests to zap him with a taser, saying that he just wants to experience something new. Death is something he doesn't fear because, in many ways, he's already dead, a fact which makes him fearless and which makes him more or less dare his would-be killer to take the shot.

Cosmopolis is a very claustrophobic film, as much of it takes place in Packer's limo, which is hermetically sealed in order to eliminate street noise. While he's holding court in the car - having sexual encounters, a doctor's appointment, and doing a lot of talking about money and the markets - outside is chaos as Occupy-esque protestors take to the streets, demonstrating against the President and the 1%. The way that society seems to be coming apart in the background, mostly unnoticed by Packer, is an interesting aspect of the story, but the overall stiffness of the film undercuts whatever excitement that might inspire. The characters spend a great deal of time talking about money and the film is so intensely didactic that it sometimes plays as if the characters are reading passages from text books to each other. To be perfectly honest, for the most part the film is kind of... boring, which is something I never would have expected from Cronenberg, a filmmakers whose work, even at its least accessible, is always at least interesting.

Much of the problem with Cosmopolis is that it fails to establish any kind of narrative momentum and as a result sort of drags itself from one scene to the next. That being said, the film does sometimes show signs of life, thanks largely to its cast. This is the first performance from Pattinson that I've actually seen (though, obviously, I've been vaguely aware of him as an actor for the past few years) and it's solid, particularly as the narrative begins to loosen its grip somewhat, allowing the characters to breathe. Brief appearances from Juliette Binoche and Paul Giamatti introduce a welcome naturalness to a film that is otherwise self-consciously mannered, and the always excellent Samantha Morton shows up for a scene that is mostly exposition but which still manages to have some spark due to the interesting dynamic between the characters (I don't quite know what to make of it, but it's interesting to note that her character is the only one, other than Packer, who ever occupies the special chair Packer has in his limo).

I went into Cosmopolis knowing very little about it other than that it was a Cronenberg film, so I don't know that my disappointment with it can be chalked up to having gone in with unfairly high expectations. I just couldn't find a way to engage with this one, which I found to be terribly flat.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I recommend a second viewing. It's not your typical movie. Like the book, one can appreciate it more the next time.