Release Date: June 15, 2012
Director: David Cronenberg
Starring: Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche
David Cronenberg’s latest is a curious offering. Based on Don DeLillo’s novel of the same name; a sort of contemporary Ulysses set in New York, Cosmopolis baffles as much as it intrigues. Also, judging by the mass exodus from my cinema screening, those expecting the usual Robert Pattinson fair will be in for a huge shock.
I counted around 15 people leaving within the first hour of the film. I can’t remember seeing anything in a cinema that caused an audience to react so extremely. There were a fair few walk outs in Terence Malick’s The Tree of Life, but this was on an unprecedented scale; particularly since they constituted about half the people in the screening. To be fair to them, it wasn’t your usual Robert Pattinson fodder: but neither was it typical of Cronenberg. Those familiar with his work might find that it leaves them cold. The film is littered with his trademark touches; the moments of black comedy and body horror in particular will please his fans. However the narrative (or lack of) and the nightmarish atmosphere were more reminiscent of Lynch than Cronenberg.
The film follows 20-something billionaire Eric Packer (Pattinson) as he rides in his limousine through Manhattan, making his way to a barbers to receive a haircut. Along the way he meets to eat lunch with his wife, has sex with 2 different women and gets caught in the middle of a violent protest. The story is essentially a selection of scenes in which Eric aimlessly talks at length with the various people he encounters. Big names pop up here and there; Juliette Binoche and Paul Giamatti appear in two of its more memorable scenes. The dialogue is compelling at times, but more often than not is muddled and confusing. The scene with Samantha Morton in particular was composed of dialogue so dense that I almost found myself giving up on it completely.
The visuals however are stunning, and arguably save the film from falling into a portentous mess. The camera is expertly positioned in every frame; providing a sense of unease as it places the audience as voyeur and peeks through windows and around corners. The shifting landscape outside the claustrophobic limousine also makes for some memorably surrealist images: a large rat puppet stalking the streets, and a man setting himself on fire are amongst the most striking. Cityscapes rarely look this familiar, and yet so compellingly strange.
Its other strength is Pattinson, who gives the best performance of his career so far. His public school boy image, which was once so grating, fits the role perfectly. In fact, one could say that Cosmopolis‘ narrative arc of a successful young man going out of his way to destroy his own career is laced with a decent dose of irony. If indeed Cosmopolis marks the beginning of a new career path for Pattinson, then that could be seen as its biggest strength.
In Summary: A departure for both Pattinson and Cronenberg that never quite hits the high notes it wants to, but is nonetheless compelling filmmaking. It’ll frustrate some, but it undeniably has its moments.