"Cosmopolis" is based on a novel by Don DeLillo, adapted for the screen by writer-director David Cronenberg (2011's "A Dangerous Method
"), but it more accurately resembles a hack version of Bret Easton Ellis crossed with James Joyce's infamously nonsensical "Finnegans Wake." Art-house cinema at its most achingly smarmy and self-indulgent, the film does not earn points for being different, but does lose quite a fair share for methodically crawling around in circles, going nowhere whilst having nothing of value to say about wealth, soul-stealing corruption or crooked capitalism. Despite one particular character saying, "I don't know how to be indifferent," she and everyone else walk through the narrative like dead-eyed zombies in a trance. They all speak in affected monotone voices, and the sentences that escape their lips are didactic, asinine, and barely coherent. Cronenberg's cinematographer, Peter Suschitzky (2007's "Eastern Promises
"), gives the ultra-post-modern imagery a cold, sleek, steely visage that works appropriately, but the rest of "Cosmopolis" is frustrating verging on abysmal verging on infuriating. To sit through it is to listen to petty, one-note whiners for the better part of two hours, droning away with dialogue that has been seemingly shuffled up and dumped out at random onto the script pages. That is not an exaggeration.
28-year-old Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) is a stinking rich Manhattan asset manager. Despite bodyguard Torval (Kevin Durand) warning him that the streets will be gridlocked due to a visit by the President of the United States on the other side of town, Eric hops in the back of his stretch limo with the intention of getting his hair cut. This simple act becomes a surrealistic day-long odyssey that finds Eric's entire life and business collapsing around him even as he rarely steps foot out of the vehicle. Stuck hopelessly in traffic, Eric's acquaintances instead visit him, from mistress Didi Fancher (Juliette Binoche), to psychobabble financial advisor Vija Kinsky (Samantha Morton), to colleague Shiner (Jay Baruchel). Also showing up: Eric's distant wife Elise (Sarah Gadon), who wastes no time telling him, "You reek of sexual discharge," and a physician who gives him daily prostate exams. Eventually, with the world collapsing around him, Eric will come face to face with his very own destined assassin, the bath towel-wearing Benno Levin (Paul Giamatti).
"Do you find this interesting?" Eric asks midway through "Cosmopolis." Not one bit. There is a place in cinema for films that demand from an audience more than just sitting in front of a screen and munching on popcorn, but said viewers naturally expect to get something in return, whether it be an added insight into human nature, a thought-provoking thematic debate, or simply a palpable emotional response. "Cosmopolis" achieves none of these things, going out of its way to alienate anyone who makes the error of choosing to sit through it. Its messages are half-baked, overly familiar, and embarrassingly simplistic, boiling down to this pearl of faux-wisdom: "A specter is haunting the world. That specter is capitalism." As people prattle on about the so-called "inseparability of technology and commerce," writer-director David Cronenberg translates from page to screen not a single character worth our cares or concerns. Hopelessly disaffected vague constructs, they are at the mercy of a screenplay that would never have seen the light of day were it not for such a heavy-duty auteur at the helm. The Cronenberg of 2012, however, is a far cry from the Cronenberg of the 1970s and '80s, when he was still able to marry the weird and quirky with substantive ideas about the world we live in. Here, there is nary a conversation worth following, not a single exchange that feels like anything other than inscrutable grand-standing between actors who have been instructed to talk at each other rather than with their scene partner. It's all a part of the filmmaker's design, one supposes, but the results are pure amateur night.
Robert Pattinson has gained a fevered level of fame due to his participation in the "Twilight
" series, but it has been in 2010's "Remember Me
" and 2011's "Water for Elephants
" where he's shown that he can be more than just a pretty-looking, flash-in-the-pan matinee idol. His turn as Eric Packer would initially appear to be a positive career choice, a giant leap away from his comfort zone and into the kind of gritty indie work that garners respect over box office receipts. Judged solely on what he was asked to do, Pattinson performs the part as well as expected. No one, though, could legitimately make this material palatable. His character is both transparent and bottled up, a question mark and predictably brooding over his fast-shattered livelihood. If there is a personality hidden somewhere in there, it's deep in hiding. Supporting players thankfully only get one or two scenes apiece and will hopefully escape this misfire unscathed. One such unfortunate is Paul Giamatti (2011's "The Ides of March
"), sharing what resembles an awful, never-ending Off-Off-Off Broadway sketch with Pattinson in the last twenty minutes that stretches so thin and tests one's patience to such an extreme that it comes close to resembling cruel and unusual punishment.
As inert as a snail and as shallow as a kiddie pool, "Cosmopolis" will make a person yearn for Bret Easton Ellis' far more provocative, topically reminiscent filmic translations2000's "American Psycho," 2002's "The Rules of Attraction
," and 2009's "The Informers
"in no time flat. Heck, by the end, the recent tone-deaf, empty-headed action bonanza "The Expendables 2
" was sounding tempting in comparisonno small feat. With Eric's ritzy limo becoming increasingly vandalized on the outsideit is spray-painted, then attacked by street protesters dressed in rat costumeswhile remaining an unblemished, state-of-the-art interior vessel where he carries out his business and hedonism, David Cronenberg leads his anti-hero toward a symbolic fate likening the end of one's life with the end of the world. If this sounds the least bit appealing, keep in mind that all of the dialogue is much like this inept climactic correspondence between Eric and Benno: "My prostate is asymmetrical," says Eric. "There's a fungus between my toes," replies Benno. "It speaks to me." One thing is just about certain: "Cosmopolis" was made to speak to no one.