Full disclosure time. Firstly, I pretty much hated “Cosmopolis.” Secondly, this is the very first Robert Pattinson movie I’ve ever seen so please don’t think I’m some anti-“Twilight” kind of guy and am hellbent on raining on R-Patt’s big coming-out as a “real actor” parade. Thirdly, I’m a big, big fan of the films of director David Cronenberg, but the last film of his I truly loved was “A History of Violence” (2005) and, prior to that, I’d have to go all the way back to 1988’s “Dead Ringers” to find a film in his canon I truly loved. Fourth, I’m not a really big fan of the writer Don DeLillo. I’ve tried to get into his work and found I can take it or leave it. I point these things out so as to make clear that I went into this film with the best intentions but left feeling irritated, confused and wore out.
As “Cosmopolis” opens, we see young, rich Wall Street type Eric Packer (Pattinson) standing on a busy city street seemingly speaking in code to his muscle guy Torval (Kevin Durand). Packer wants a haircut but Torval explains the only way to get him to the barber is to go across town and traffic is a mess due to a Presidential visit. At about the five minute mark into the film, if the theater manager would have came in and said they accidentally switched the first reel of the film with the third, I wouldn’t have been surprised. But nope, that’s the way this film was going to roll. Slowly, confusingly and dully down the streets of New York City. In fact, the entire film reminds me of this weird and seemingly out of place scene from “The Manchurian Candidate” (1962).
I’d venture to guess that 80% of the film takes place inside the limo Packer is seated in and people come in and out of the car to talk to Packer about the rise of the Yen and how it’s damaging his business. Jay Baruchel hops in as one of those hoody wearing man-children that is really, really good at computer code. Soon Juliette Binoche pops in to have sex with Packer. Samantha Morton later grabs a ride to talk about… something. Sometimes Packer gets out of the car to meet his new wife for a bite to eat. Otherwise, it’s just a slow ride through the city. So slow that Torval can evidently walk the journey alongside the limo, frequently sticking his head in to warn Packer of a “credible threat” to his safety.
Compounding this dull set piece is the fact that there’s not-so-subtle CGI being used outside the windows to convey the streets passing. I’m also pretty sure most of the scenes with Packer and his wife in diners and a book store are CGI background. Whenever something is so painstakingly obvious (and Cronenberg’s no dummy) as the CGI here, you know there’s some kind of directorial point. As to what that point is here, I simply don’t know. I’m guessing the audience should consider Packer’s entire day some kind of virtual reality and that the limo ride is taking place as a hologram or other computer-created world.
Also by my estimation Cronenberg (by way of DeLillo) is getting at a bigger picture having to do with wealth, computers and the dot-com boom and bust. But I didn’t feel engaged enough or compelled enough to dig deeper at what the hell was going on. While some might praise Cronenberg’s icy precision and almost stubborn intent to stick to DeLillo’s style and prose, I was frankly pretty bored. Further, I almost want to fall back on some lazy writers’ techniques and say the film was a waste of time and nothing happens, but I’ll stop short of that. Just short.
I did think Pattinson was fine as the slowly unraveling Packer and all the guest appearances by quality actors are well done. There’s a late appearance in the movie by an actor who is well loved but I won’t say who it is in case that could be considered a spoiler. Plus whenever there’s mention of a big-name actor in a late, small role, I always find myself anxiously awaiting their arrival and it takes away from the film. The scene with him is pretty fantastic even if it adheres to the notion that “Cosmopolis” isn’t interested in helping you get a grasp on what has happened, what is happening or what will happen.
If you’re a Cronenberg completist, you’re going to see this no matter what I say. If you’re a Pattinson fan from his “Twilight” work, stay away. Far away. If you’re a fan of Don DeLillo and his laborious writing style, you might love this film as Cronenberg seems to have ripped the screenplay pages directly from the novel. But for me, I was annoyed and bored. I don’t need another Cronenberg exposition of the body politic or the collision of psychology and horror necessarily, but I surely don’t need an obnoxious litmus test designed for the art and literature crowd to fumble over in an attempt to elevate confounding dreck to superlative cinema.