“Cosmopolis”—written and directed by David Cronenberg, from a 2003 novel by Don DeLillo—is a movie that’s probably more fun to talk about than to actually watch and be entertained by. It’s a picture that’s driven more by ideas than plot points. It’s a thinking person’s movie, sort of like Ridley Scott’s latest sci fi venture, “Prometheus.” But unlike that film which was a more intelligent blockbuster, “Cosmopolis” is pure art house cinema. It tells a slow moving, compacted and subtle story about a young billionaire’s sudden demise over the course of one day. It’s fascinating and it’s unlike anything you’ll see all year. Though I’m not sure that works entirely in its favor.
Robert Pattinson plays the rich, arrogant Eric Packer, a 28-year-old Assets Manager. One day he decides to go get a haircut. So he gets into his high tech, state of the art stretch limo and heads out. During the limo drive he has a number of strange encounters with acquaintances where they talk. Those include his new wife Elise Shifrin (Sarah Gadon), his chief advisor Vija Kinsky (Samantha Morton), Brutha Fez (K’naan) a rap artist and others. On top of that Eric’s ride is always stalled due to some kind of distraction happening in the city streets. First it’s a traffic jam due to the President’s visit, then it’s an all out anit-capitalism protest and finally it’s a funeral for another rap star.
The conversational topics range from technology to human behavior to economy to the future, among other things. They can get very philosophical and dense, bringing up a number of themes and metaphors. I can’t say I understood everything talked about and even if I did I don’t think I want to go into too much detail about them in this review. They make for a potentially fun but lengthy post-movie discussion.
Although one common theme that does keep showing up is, differences in class: the extremely poor, like those protesters who want equality, versus the extreme rich, like Eric, who have become so rich that they don’t know what to do with all of their earnings and that money itself has sort of become useless. That could help explain the quote presented at the beginning: “A rat became the unit of currency” from a poem by Zbigniew Herbert. Even Eric himself seems to have that mindset. During the movie he’s betting huge amounts of his clients’ money against the rise of yen, (the Japanese currency), uncaring of the consequences that it will lead to. These subjects are no doubt thought provoking.
“Cosmopolis” is very confined and closed in. It mostly takes place inside the limo, while occasionally venturing out to some restaurant or apartment building. From a filmmaking standpoint, Cronenberg works fairly well with what little room he has even if the movie can sometimes be too stiff and clinical. He finds interesting places to place his camera, making a dialog scene at least somewhat interesting visually. But at the same time those ideas and the close-knit environment make for some issues. “Cosmopolis” is a very chatty movie; more often the characters talk about things happening instead of those things actually happening. As a result the movie really doesn’t amount to much. At the end, the movie left me a little bewildered. There’s not a lot to latch on to, at least from an emotional standpoint. No one to care for. Cronenberg and his cinematographer Peter Suschitzky shoot practically all of the scenes in close up; there’s rarely ever a long shot. And yet the movie is still incredibly cold and distant. This might be OK if there were more to the characters but for the most part that isn’t the case. None of the supporting players (with the single exception of Paul Giamatti in a later role) makes a dent. They’re just there to deliver bits of information and engage in conversation with Eric. They’re one-dimensional and are only there for Eric’s sake.
Eric is the only remotely interesting character because he’s in the movie the entire time. It’s his story. He comes off as a bored, restless billionaire, unsure of what to do with his life. He also seems to be obsessed with his safety, a Howard Hughes type. His limo is practically impenetrable; he has a couple of security guards escorting him around. And weirdly enough, he gets checked by a doctor every day…inside the limo. But he’ll still leave the limo, risking his life for seemingly trivial reasons. Pattinson is surprisingly good in the role. He doesn’t overact his lines, or look like he’s constipated as he did in the “Twilight” films. It’s a refined, internalized performance rather than explosive or over the top. He shows great acting potential, after he’s done with “Twilight.”
The movie is directed by David Cronenberg, who also did movies like “The Fly” and “Eastern Promises,” so of course you should know that “Cosmopolis” is weird. The picture takes place in some big city like New York (it’s never specified) but it feels more like some bizarre, alternate universe. Everybody in the movie is weird, and the conversations they have are weird. They talk like doped up intellectuals. Sometimes this oddness is eerie and spontaneously funny, like when Eric gets a physical inside the limo while talking to someone. But by the end it doesn’t serve much of a purpose. It’s just weird for the sake of being weird.
“Cosmopolis” won’t attract a big audience, that’s for sure. Only people interested in art house movies, maybe some Pattinson fans, and people who liked the Don Delillo book. The film requires major patience and doesn’t have much in the way of action. I don’t just mean shootings and explosions but just general movie action. As much as I would like to see it again, just to understand it better, I’m not sure it’s a movie I would want to watch over and over again, mainly because its basic narrative isn’t all that accessible.