Cosmopolis – Review of a play on wheels

Packer and his iLimo

David Cronenberg’s decade-long run of reality-grounded character dramas has come to an end following his last venture, the disappointingly sterile A Dangerous Method. His latest, Cosmopolis, feels more like a film from the director of Videodrome and Crash than anything since the 1990s, but is this shift back towards his roots one for the better?

Um… yes?

Based on the 2003 novel by Don DeLillo about a corporate high-roller’s disassociation from reality, Cronenberg’s film could be seen to be more relevant in a world in recession, post-Occupy Wall Street, than its source material.

Robert Pattinson stars as Eric Packer, a 28-year-old magnate travelling across New York City in his fortress-like stretch limo, just to get a haircut. A fan of routine, nothing will stop him from getting his hair cut at the barbers where he has always got his hair cut; even as fate conjures all the traffic-halting forces it can to prevent him from reaching his destination. A presidential visit, a funeral march for rap star, and an apocalyptic anti-capitalism protest keep this finance-themed Waiting for Godot from reaching its destination.

Along the way Packer engages in corporate back-and-forths with his underlings (amongst them Jay Baruchel’s financial wünderkind, Samantha Morton’s top adviser and Juliette Binoche’s art expert), all of whom he summons to his limo-cum-office, while making time for various sexual encounters and even undergoing his paranoia-induced daily prostate exam. He also finds time to squeeze in meetings with his already-estranged new wife Elise (Sarah Gadon). But as these run-ins become less polite and the markets begin to tumble, Packer’s mindset becomes dangerously self-destructive.

Largely set within Packer’s high-tech iLimo, there’s a very stagey feel to proceedings; dialogue is adeptly scripted but highly self-aware, and much of the film feels like a play imperfectly adapted. Pattinson is strong in the lead role, carrying the dignity of a reckless, self-made man and the madness of a man about to lose it all. But at times it feels too much like he is delivering lines unnaturally, performing the character’s more bizarre decisions without the necessary certainty – a fault with the complex story perhaps more so than with Pattinson himself. The cast is strong across the board, especially Morton and an enjoyably hammy Kevin Durand as Packer’s head of security. A last-minute appearance by Paul Giamatti in a very Paul Giamatti role feels a little too easy, but he fits the character fine.

Cronenberg fans may be a little disappointed that it is not quite the mind-bender anticipated, although there are plenty of Cronenbergian touches. The fetishisation of technology, especially the limousine itself, echoes back to Crash. While not made of biological matter like in Videodrome or eXistenZ, Kevin Durand’s personalised, almost en-souled sidearm, feels like a subtle hark back to those most Cronenberg of movies.

The unimpressive effects designed to pass Toronto off as New York take time to get used to, but once you get past that there is plenty to admire, or be horrified by, in Cosmopolis. Some of its longueurs however will frustrate viewers, and the film’s central message of how capitalism controls our lives does not always strike home.

It’s a wildly straight-forward film from Cronenberg, which shows him at his best and worst, but most often at his most middle-of-the-road. Which is, curiously, where this movie is mostly set.

3/5

(originally published at http://www.filmireland.net)

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