Friday, September 14, 2012

Film Review: David Cronenberg's Cosmopolis

Cold, hard and calculating, with a near unbreakable diamond surface, lost emotions bubbling just beneath the alabaster skin, waiting to burst through the flesh in an explosive maniacal fashion not completely unlike some sort of metaphorical grotesquery from Videodrome or The Brood or from another one of the director's earlier more body horror works.  This can describe both Cosmopolis, David Cronenberg's latest film and Robert Pattinson's burning out, billionaire asset manager within said film.    As divisive as any Cronenberg, perhaps even more so, the film is bound to split both critics and viewers into separate widespread and equally brazen camps - those who think the film utter didactic crap, ready fodder for brainless attacks by an uneducated mass market, and those who believe the film an icy stroke of cinematic genius to be thrown hard against the oncoming mass of mainstream mediocrity much like the film's recurring theme of 99%ers diatribically tossing dead rats at soulless white limousines.  Obviously, one can tell this particular critic and viewer finds himself firmly imbedded in the latter camp.  

Either way you look at it, this film, the neuveu-Kubrickian auteur's twentieth feature, an adaptation of Don DeLillo's supposedly unfilmable 2003 novel of the same name, is one for the so-called ages - whatever age that may be.  Ostensibly set around 2000, at the time of the dot com bubble burst, but realistically taking place in what could be today or what could be tomorrow, or even the tomorrow after that - linear thought is not necessarily an important factor in Cronenbergian cinema - we follow cocksure billionaire Eric Packer around an impossibly congested Manhattan, full of rioting anti-corporate types swinging their aforementioned dead rats around town, intermittent sexual encounters and invading financial advisers, an unseen and unknown presidential motorcade blocking streets on a whim, a water main burst, overly insistent yet ineffectual bodyguards, a rap funeral procession, a mysterious but eventually credible lone gunman and the most sexually intoxicating prostate exam ever put on film (one will ask him or herself just what is an asymmetrical prostate) - most of which takes place in the back of an offensively long stretch limo blinged out with its own bar, sonogram machine, computer monitors, multiple TV screens and even a pull out toilet - and all just to get a damn haircut.  

Samantha Morton, as Packer's chief adviser, and one would guess mentor of sorts considering the way her character is positioned and listened to by the seemingly aloof billionaire, says of the riots happening outside the claustrophobic limo, that they are a protest of the future.  This, in part, is what Cronenberg is showing us here - the instability of the future.  The future of 2000 and the future of 2012 and beyond.  Packer's Odyssean traversing of the city (DeLillo's novel, and in turn Cronenberg's film, is of course a modern retelling of the Homeric epic) depicts a day long downward spiral from the veritable top of the world (we keep hearing of a penthouse in the sky and flying planes and devouring the world) to a shithole tenement building near the docks.  The excesses of the rich piled upon themselves to devour not the world, but perhaps Packer himself.  A film for the ages indeed as the economic disaster that was handed down by the administration that was just sleazily taking power at the onset of the book/film's ostensible setting is weighing heavy on lives and heads of state.  A film that shows its viewers - its rapturous watchers - the chaos that ensues when a society is given no boundaries of decency and fair play.  A protest of the future - and of the present - indeed.

Aside from the aforementioned Ms. Morton, we also get one-shot scenes from Juliette Binoche as an art dealer-cum-limo lover, Mathieu Amalric as a goofy pie-in-the-face protester playing at leaping gnome, and Paul Giamatti as the "voice of the little people" - all sharing just one scene a piece with the film's star.  Leaping, sometimes figuratively, oft-times literally, in and out of Packer's limo life.  But the star of the film is indeed Robert "Sparkles" Pattinson.  And it is Pattinson, trying to break away from his Twilight time and prove himself a viable actor, who does more than a bang-up job as our intrepid city traveler - showing us a frozen outer shell that begins to crack under the pressure of what is expected of him and what is actually happening now that he no longer controls the strings.  The cold, systematic way in which Pattinson's lost billionaire, playing at Holden Caulfield's idea of everyone being a phony when in truth he may be the biggest goddamn phony of them all, delivers his lines and meters his cadence may cover up a somewhat weaker actor (we really do not have anything else of substance to compare notes with here) but nevertheless it works here.  Pretty much everything, amidst the chaos of the film's goings-on, works here.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review. I was going to skip this one in the theaters, but maybe I'll go check it out now. I love DeLillo, but had mixed feelings on the novel, and should have gave Cronenberg the benefit of the doubt.

Unknown said...

This is probably the most divisive picture of the year. Glad we are on the same side.