Chances are the majority of people reading this have already made up their minds about Robert Pattinson’s acting ability or lack thereof. Blessed and cursed, as he is, in equal measure. Blessed that his name alone can greenlight almost any project south of $20m and cursed by a successful franchise and heartthrob status resulting in audiences inability to get past the “Twilight guy” tag. For those that have already firmly positioned their hats in the anti-Pattinson camp we strongly recommend a dose of Cosmopolis. You may open your mind a little.
A day in the life of multi-billionaire Eric Packer. As he rides through New York – his only tangible goal is to get a haircut – Eric sees his controlled life go into free fall as his fallible financial predictions have massive consequences on a global scale. On the way to the barbers he also has to deal with a frigid wife, an assassination attempt and the unfortunate discovery that he has an asymmetrical prostrate.
It may not quite ‘share DNA’ with Cronenberg’s eXistenZ but there are a number of notable equivalences with the Canadian director’s previous work. Fronted by attractive leads put through thoroughly unpleasant ringers, both films search for deep philosophical questions with one hand while simultaneously not giving one solitary shit if the characters or audience find them. Half the fun of a Cronenberg film is in turning off the part of a brain that endlessly questions events, until, once complete, it can be dissected to the hearts content. Any attempt to ‘make sense’ of everything would likely cause Scanners-esque head explosions. Events happen and characters come and go.
That Cosmopolis rarely feels episodic is the directors great triumph. As Packer is approached and in turn approaches a seemingly endless supply of thinkers and analysts, each one trying to give him the right question to help him find the right answer, the film remains fluid, taking the viewer on a journey that rarely feels dull. It’s a cold, detached, near transcendental dream of a film and evidence that author Don DeLillo’s tomes will never usher any accessible mainstream film work. A distant rumour of HBO developing the author’s White Noise, however, remains a tantalising prospect.
Rather than shy away from the inaccessibility of the source material, Cronenberg embraces it, giving the interior of the limousine a painful silence made louder by the lack of any diagetic or non-diagetic music. (Note to multiplexes: Please don’t play The Avengers of Prometheus in the adjacent screen). Adding to this awkward feeling of disorientating quiet the actors deliver their, mostly perplexing, dialogue in stilted monotones. Sarah Gadon and Samantha Morton in particular come across as purposefully inhuman. As Packer’s Head of Theory, Morton is the cinematic equivalent of Siri discussing fear of immortality and the ramifications of rampant capitalism, while Gadon’s iciness intones that “one learns about the horrors of other countries by riding in taxis here”. Only Paul Giamatti and Mathieu Amalric convey anything close to emotion, yet neither of their characters would invite you to accept an open seat next to them on public transport.
As for Mr. Pattinson his is a performance that says ‘take note’, but not one that screams career longevity in one foul swoop. In acting terms a fitting comparison would be another contemporary American novelist’s work based in New York (but filmed in Toronto) centring on Yuppie disillusionment; American Psycho. While this project never asks the degree of mania from Eric Packer as Mary Harron’s film did of Bale’s Patrick Bateman, the true test of an actor working at the top of his craft is in embodying the quieter moments. It’s here where Pattinson just falls short.
As a piece of cinema history Cosmopolis might find it difficult to be little more than a footnote in the career of David Cronenberg, accomplished and certainly thought-provoking but not quite essential. For its other impact and the question of what lies ahead for its star (is he the next Leonardo DiCaprio or the next Hayden Christensen?) like much of the events of Packer’s ride, it’s one that still remains unanswered.
Exhilarating and baffling and proud to be both at the same time, Cosmopolis is one for those that like their questions coming thick and fast even if they know the answers never will appear. It’s also the only film you’ll see this year in which Robert Pattinson has the deeper regions of his prostate handled while debating the highs and lows of the financial market. Unless Breaking Dawn Part II has something truly unpredictable up its sleeve.