A film review by Craig J. Koban January 6, 2013
2012, R, 109 mins.
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:
only thing worse than watching half of COSMOPOLIS is watching the whole
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.
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.
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..
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
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
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.