When I first heard that Robert Pattinson was going to be in a Cronenberg film, my initial reaction was to declare him (Cronenberg) a sell out and get rid of my Naked Lunch DVD out of spite. When I heard that it was going to be an adaptation of a Don DeLillo novel, my reaction was “Robert, you’d better not screw up Cronenberg’s vision.”
Now that I’ve seen it, my reaction can be summarized as “criminally underrated, and Pattinson actually does a good job in his role as a detached billionaire, but not close to Cronenberg’s best.”
Why? Because the film doesn’t make the sort of impact it needed to make in order to be successful. It’s the equivalent of setting up a grand bonfire with material that will burn well into the night. And then someone forget to bring the matches.
Pattinson plays Eric, a recently married 28 year old man who has earned a vast fortune via currency trading. He’s driving across Manhattan in a modern limo that he rarely leaves (or rarely has to). It contains toilets, TVs, computers, food – everything to live in. It also ensures he’s dead to the world. Pattinson is not far removed from Patrick Bateman of American Psycho. He’s a man whose success is meaningless to him, who views trivial pursuits as the ultimate end. What’s his goal in Cosmopolis? To get a haircut. And he’s willing to brave Manhattan traffic that is at a gridlock and the President is in town, so security on the roads has been expanded. Of course, we never see any speech by the President. Why would we? It is not important to Eric.
The tone kind of reminds me of Eyes Wide Shut, in many ways. All of the wealthy characters act as though they are robotic entities that have been programmed to be obsessed with sex and power. And in some ways, they are. Yes, the dialogue is stilted, but that’s kind of the point. These are ideas of people, to borrow from American Psycho again.
Of course the film is set to the backdrop of the Occupy movement. Eric is the ultimate representation of the young, callous entrepreneur unable to relate to anyone they meet (see Mark Zuckerburg for another example). The limousine that Eric rides is vandalized by the protestors about halfway through the film. Clearly, something is being set up between these parties. Except not. Was there ever such a confrontation in real life? Both sides pretty much ignored the other. And that’s what Cosmopolis reflects. Why should Eric address anyone but those in his limo? As far as their concerned, they don’t exist. There’s a great scene in which the protestors vandalize his car, while he continues his discussion of the yuan and currency exchange. It’s the sort of darkly comic scene that would not feel out of place in Dr. Strangelove.
So far, so good, right? After about an hour, I was convinced I was watching another Cronenberg masterpiece. Indeed, a lot of his fans will probably come away with that feeling. But the lack of cohesion and purpose kept me from fully enjoying Cosmopolis. The rhythm makes the film seem like a series of short films that just so happen to star the same person. If I seem like I am having trouble describing the plot – well, that’s because there is no plot. This does not do justice to the characters in the film, who are begging to have something done with them. I have not read the novel, but it seems like the work is convinced just to have the characters sort of bounce of each other and hope for the best. Some characters (like Paul Giamatti’s Benno) seemingly come from the woodwork just so that the story has some sort of third act. Does that really do anyone in the story justice? I wanted more connections, more purpose, and more relevance to what was happening to us. That may seem unfair, but the film’s backdrop was just asking to enter our world. For whatever reason, everyone backs away once they have their hand on the doorknob.
Still, I don’t think Cosmopolis was given a fair chance, especially considering Pattinson’s presence. It’s still an effective character study of some very empty people who use their wealth to lead very empty lives. But I do wish that the film was more. It should have at least been brave enough to leave that insular, graffiti covered limo.