Film Reviews

Cosmopolis David Cronenberg

Rating - 5/10

The frequently mucky nature of Twilight fandom might be well-acknowledged, but odds are that even the most perverted of Team Edward fantasists wouldn't have conjured up the sight of Robert Pattinson rolling around in a limo with Juliette Binoche, let alone the slightly pained expression on his face as he gets his prostate examined (complete with alarmingly amplified glove-snapping sound effects)*.

Much has already been made of the unlikeliness of Pattinson working with David Cronenberg, and it would be remiss of me to not do so myself. While it’s impossible to resist gleefully imagining what tweens looking to fill the gap before the concluding part of the series will make of Cosmopolis’ twisted misanthropy, the truth is he’s proved as big a draw for the chattering classes curious to see what result would come from such an unlikely collaboration. And it turns out that it’s a surprisingly (mostly) successful one – Pattinson bravely throws himself into the part of disillusioned billionaire Eric Packer, a character not just repulsive but so emblematic of a capitalist system gone berserk that the audience is practically encouraged to cheer on his extermination. Teen idols may have gone art-house or bad in the past, but never in such a dramatic manner as this, and for that reason it's a shame that it wasn't in service of a better film.

Cronenberg has been working in a minor, talk-y (or if you'd rather “psychological”) vein for about a decade now, which is understandable what with his trademark body-horror aesthetic reaching an arguable end-point in 1996's Crash (the credibility-straining rehash eXistenZ definitely felt like a step too far), and while this streak has served up a few successes, it has erred on the unnecessarily ponderous. Unfortunately, this is something that Cosmopolis takes to new extremes, thanks to its faithful to a fault adapting of Don DeLillo’s novel.

DeLillo may be a writer justly recognised for his ideas (although the argument that Cosmopolis is particularly of the zeitgeist doesn’t really hold up – yes, the impact of reckless capitalism is something that is very much on the current agenda, which is no doubt why the long-gestating project finally managed to secure funding, but its details, such as the custard pie throwing anti-corporate demonstrators, seem like almost quaint reminders of the financial conversation pre-crash, which is to be expected considering the novel was published in 2003), but he’s also one that’s unwilling to create engaging characters, or believable conversations. Resulting in the string of dialogues that form the bulk of Cosmopolis largely falling flat; the feeling being that the characters aren’t so much talking to, or even at, but rather around each other, with each overly written, but often meaningless line pretty much falling flat. To be fair, some ideas come through, either as a result of a rare lucidity on DeLillo’s part (the pride that Packer’s barber and family friend takes in the young man’s achievements highlighting the gap between the reverential air society originally placed on the financially successful and the increasing realisation that the wealthiest members of society are rarely the most useful) or from some of the more experienced and talented members of Cronenberg’s cast – namely Binoche, Samantha Morton and Paul Giamatti – managing to make the words sing. Pattinson himself tries exceptionally hard with the material, and mostly does a good job of carrying the film, but it’s a hard task, and he’s only ever as good as his sparring partner; the recurring appearances of Sarah Gadon as Packer’s wife in particular being tedious to the point of excruciating.

But, while script problems are pretty much fatal in a film this dialogue driven, Cosmopolis still manages to offer arresting images and moments, with Cronenberg offering scenes – a TV news report turning violent, a faintly surreal riot – that practically drip with his trademark icy touch and nicely cut through all the talk. Equally striking is the film’s use of music, both from the director’s regular sidekick Howard Shore, and from fellow Canucks Metric, whose input serves as a reminder of how unfairly overlooked they generally are. And while a hip-hop based subplot does raise the question of whether DeLillo is commenting on the corrupting influence of money in art, or is really just lazily brushing the art-form with the contempt that most members of his generation view it with, it does provide a moment where both imagery and soundtrack come together in a surreally beautiful funeral procession for a deceased rapper. 

For the most part Cosmopolis feels like a rather dry, uninviting and unsatisfying experience, and yet its stronger moments do ensure that it sticks around in the memory long after viewing. And you certainly couldn't say any of that for Kristen Stewart or Taylor Lautner’s post-Twilight vehicles.


*Although hopefully such cinematic pleasures will now inspire a whole raft of gloriously weird fan fiction; they would be a damn sight more interesting than Fifty Shades of Grey.