A film review by Craig J. Koban January 6, 2013



2012, R, 109 mins.


Robert Pattinson: Eric Packer / Juliette Binoche: Didi Fancher / Sarah Gadon: Elsie Shifrin / Mathieu Amalric: The Pastry Assassin / Jay Baruchel: Shiner / Kevin Durand: Torval / Samantha Morton: Vija Kinsky / Paul Giamatti: Benno Levin

Written and directed by David Cronenberg, based on the novel of the same name by Don DeLillo 

The only thing worse than watching half of COSMOPOLIS is watching the whole film.  

In retrospect - and if I had a choice - I would have opted for the former.  The press screening I attended earlier this year had projection issues, which caused me to miss the final 40-50 minutes of the film.  Since this lifeless, banal and maddeningly pretentious work utterly bored me to death during its first half, I nonetheless maintained a feeble amount of hope that the rest of it would redeem what preceded it.   

No dice.   

The film is based on 2003 book of the same name – unread by me – by Don DeLillo.  If Cronenberg has set out to make a lovingly faithful adaptation then the resulting film makes me never want to pick up a copy of the literary source material.  It tells a fairly simply story of a rich man and his journey across the mob-riddled streets of Manhattan in order to…get a haircut.  Along the way, he has painfully protracted conversations of the most inane, preposterous, and seemingly incoherent with characters – some that pop in and out of the story, others that are introduced and then are never heard from again – that are enough to make your head spin.  

There’s nothing inherently wrong with having dialogue exchanges that are graceful and colorful – God knows we need more of this in the movies – but the manner that people talk to each other in COSMOPOLIS – going from one ridiculously long-winded non-sequitur declaration to the next without a care in the world to cadence or logic  – proves to be deeply frustrating.  This is one of the very rare films were you just wish its characters would shut up and never talk again, mostly because they speak in meaningless garbally gook absurdities about nothingness.  I never gained an impression that even the actors themselves knew what on earth they were spouting out half the time..  

Robert Pattinson plays Eric Packer, a 28-year-old asset manager that apparently has it all.  Yet, he appears to have no place of residence, as he essentially lives within a lavishly decked out limousine that’s filled with every single modern and technological gadget and convenience required to live in it 24/7 (it even has a retractable toilet).   All he wants is a haircut.  That’s it.  But he also wants his limo to traverse across a Manhattan that’s being literally ripped to shreds as the financial world is crumbling around its citizens.  Occupy Wall Street-esque demonstrations and violent protests ensue around Parker, but he seems positively unfazed by it all. 



His journey is stymied by a few things: (a) The President of the United States is in town for a visit, which makes traffic congestion a real nightmare, and (b) the funeral of one of his favorite musicians is also causing vehicle hiccups and roadblocks along the way.  No matter, because this gives Parker time to chat with his chief money expert (Emily Hampshire), consult with his own one-man technological geek squad (Jay Baruchel), have sex with his mistress (Juliette Binoche) while pining to have sex with his actual wife (Sara Gadon) and ultimately coming face-to-face with a highly disturbed and disgruntled ex-employee (Paul Giamatti).  Oh, along the way Parker also has a few minutes for a prostate exam.  You know things are getting desperate in a film for some sort of action when the story cuts to a doctor shoving his fingers up a man’s rectum. 

I get it.  I really do.  The film is supposed to be largely about how Parker seals himself off from the rest of humanity in the tight emotional and physical bubble that is his limo.  Yet, framing a majority of the film in the vehicle becomes remarkably prosaic the longer it goes on for, not to mention that I never once – at any time – believed that this film was actually taken place in the Big Apple.  Cronenberg shot the film in Toronto studios for the most part, and it pathetically shows at times (there are instances of some truly wretched and amateurish rear projection that’s supposed to fake Manhattan sights in the background of the limo looking from the outside in).  Cronenberg never creates much visual interest either in the tight and dark confines of Parker’s limo; it’s mostly just statically and haphazardly filmed with minimal aesthetic panache: this film just sits lifelessly on the screen.   

Worse yet is that Parker and his companions, as mentioned, talk and talk and talk and talk…and talk and talk…in such soulless and far-sweeping generalities and irrationalities, spanning one unrelated subject to the next, so much so that it prompts more constant watch checking than intrigue.  Some of the lines made me laugh, perhaps unintentionally (i.e. – “Talent is more erotic when it’s wasted” or “I smell sex all over you” or "There's a poem I read in which a rat becomes the unit of currency" or – my personal favorite – “My prostate is asymmetrical”).  These statements, and many others, are more like nonsensical epigrams launched by the actors because they might have looked good on the page to them but come off as purely and exasperatingly laughable when uttered on screen.  Things don’t get any better in the film’s elephantine-paced climax, during which a deranged Giamatti and Pattinson have a stand-off…that’s just filled with more mind-numbingly philosophical mumbo-jumbo banter that all but serves the purpose of driving the final stake in the heart of this film.  That fact that Giamatti at least gives it his all and injects some much needed pathos and energy into this otherwise comatose film is borderline Herculean; he deserves some special medal of merit here for at least trying. 

All of this is not helped by Pattinson, who seems six-ways-to-Sunday miscast in COSMOPOLIS.  The Brit’s dodgy attempt at an American accent is bad enough, but as the focal point of the entire film he plays every single moment with the same emotionless, blank-faced, and stoic personality that all but makes the cringe-inducing dialogue scenes he’s a part of all the more unendurable.   He does not really create a fully realized flesh and blood creation as much as he does a head-scratchingly vague abstraction of a character.  I could see how Cronenberg perhaps thought that the actor’s past playing pale skinned and sullen vampire might have lent itself well to playing an incorruptible and remorseless Wall Street shark, but Pattinson never once conveys even a modest level of menace throughout the film.  He’s way out of his league here. 

It perhaps takes a special kind of genius turned momentarily mad and driven by stagy and self-delusional artsy-fartsy impulses to make a film as perplexingly rotten as COSMOPOLIS.  Cronenberg has little to prove at this stage in his career, other than he has the goods to rebound from this horrendously misguided blip on his otherwise strong cinematic radar.  COSMOPOLIS is a pathetically sad and befuddling filmgoing experience, seeing as it has come on the heels of a strong triumvirate of films by the filmmaker that includes A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, EASTERN PROMISES, and A DANGEROUS METHOD.  Cronenberg’s trademark discipline and acute storytelling instincts have been egregiously stymied here.  I’d like to give acclaimed directors the benefit of the doubt and think that they are incapable of making something soulless, misshapen, and unrelentingly dead on arrival.  COSMOPOLIS has proven me wrong.  So very, very wrong.  If you're seeking a cure for chronic insomnia, actively seek this film out.  It beats any pill you could take.

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