Cosmopolis, David Cronenberg’s newest film, is a study of the 1 percent in an all-too realistic future. The film follows Eric Packer as he drives across town in a stretch limo to get a haircut. Most of the narrative takes place within the limo, a model of excess that infuriates Occupy-like protesters so deeply that they deface it in a rage. As Eric makes dangerous bets against the Chinese yuan, his financial empire begins to collapse, and his innate instinct to self-destruct rears its ugly head. The limo is an interesting setting for the examination of a wealthy and stunted billionaire, as it physically shuts him off from the world he neglects.
Those expecting a stereotypically exciting film will not be satisfied. This is certainly not an accessible film for the average Robert Pattinson fan. Nevertheless, Pattinson took a risk when he signed on to the project, which is commendable, considering the subject matter could alienate some of his followers. It’s a good performance that, in comparison to the moody love interest he is accustomed to playing, tests his range enough to show his capabilities as an actor. His portrayal is rather emotionless, but fits a part that calls for apathy. A highlight for me was Didi Fancher (Juliette Binoche), Packer’s art dealer, whose one scene lifted the film with an emotional energy that was previously nonexistent. Yet she is only one of a revolving door of characters, presented in vignette style structure as they visit Packer’s limousine “office.”
This film is certainly not David Cronenberg at his best. When he is good, he makes rapturously interesting films; you can barely look away from the screen, even through grotesque moments of horror. His strength lies in studying the disintegration of the human mind through dismantling the human body. His exploration of the dark side of human nature normally makes for a disturbing viewing.
In this film, he explores dark themes, but lacks the emotional core that makes his films so powerful. In The Fly, we felt connected to Seth Brundle and his evolution into a monster because we liked him and identified with him. It is safe to say that Cronenberg wanted us to feel a disconnect, but it only succeeded in making me disenchanted with what would happen next.
The inherent problem with Cosmopolis is the dialogue. With a plot that meanders and a revolving door of character entries and exits, the dialogue needs to be engaging. Instead, these characters ramble for so long that I lost focus. In one scene, two characters talk about their time driving their taxicabs on the night shift. The scene starts off interestingly enough, but goes on for too long. And worse, the final scene felt like I was listening to a twenty-minute diatribe of someone with a worthless opinion. A more concise script would have gotten the message across without feeling preachy.
On the bright side, Cosmopolis is stylishly made. The sets, especially that one in the final scene, are detailed and thoughtful. The limo is a beautiful depiction of subtle technological advancement. Howard Shore, Cronenberg’s frequent collaborator, is well-known for his enchanting score of The Lord of the Rings. In Cosmopolis, he diverts from his usual style with a score that is understated and modern.
Despite the issues I had with Cosmopolis, I had the distinct feeling that what it was trying to say was important. It explores themes of capitalism and depicts the wealthy class as emotionally stunted. Yet, I have to say, the importance was lost on me. This is definitely not a film for everyone. There is an audience for Cosmopolis, but they are far more patient than I. Even the greatest film buffs and fans of Cronenberg must admit that this is not his best, or most engaging, work.