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Griffith Maloney [Celluloid 08.20.12] Canada drama

Cosmopolis is a terrible movie. Amid the cityscape of Cronenberg's new grease slick of a film we're dragged through tightly shot conversation after conversation, each one more impenetrable than the last. The plot is towed along by the thinnest of premises. It is propped up by a string of notable actors and it slouches to an unsatisfying conclusion. It violates almost every rule of good movie making and yet inside of this monstrous corpse of a narrative there is something dark and beautiful. It is without a doubt the most wonderful and unique "thing" I've seen all year, but I wouldn't call it a movie.

Based on the book by Don DeLillo, one of America's preeminent essayists, Cosmopolis is more theory than action. It consists of a single trip across New York by Eric Packer, played by Robert Pattinson. Packer spends the entire trip lounging in his custom limo and discussing his financial futures with various advisors and employees. That's it. Seriously, that's the entirety of the movie. I'm sure there are cinematographers who have woken up in the night drenched in cold sweat just from the very idea of shooting an entire movie in a car. If ever a film was trapped by its premise this is it. Despite the best efforts of the crew and camera men these shots are boring and the frantically staged conversations still look like talking heads engaged in endless duels on the nature of business.

In terms of acting this one is a mixed bag. Robert Pattinson is an awful choice. He was unfortunately selected for the role after Colin Farrell was ousted by scheduling conflicts. Pattinson contains none of the shark-like confidence and maturity needed for this role. He looks from the beginning like a boy playing dress up, walking around the place wearing his father's suit and tie. The other players are far more capable and Samantha Morton and Kevin Durand are particularly sublime. The actors all flow through the dense material with a particular calm. Playing scenes with Pattinson as if they were friendly spirits there to help ease him through this transformation. The whole thing is like some perverted wall street Christmas Carol.

Solid performances just cant hide the achilles heel of this film, the one that's not Pattinson, there's nothing happening. In spite of the riots, the assassination threats, the personal drama and all of the trappings of the script there is absolutely nothing moving this movie forward. There is no engine in Paker's custom limo. This is the main reason why this is a traditionally terrible movie, I have no idea what anyone wants and I don't know why I should care. Sure philosophical musings on the nature of life and the corporate world are fun to listen to and DeLillo's snappy writing is a real treat in the longer monologues but you can't support a film on one theoretical tent-pole. Movies like Waking Life have tried and failed, you almost always end up with something less than a real film. The intellectual side of the picture slowly cannibalizes the necessary dramatic action.

Two wonderful things save the experience of watching this film. The first is some masterful directing by David Cronenberg. Even with the constraints of the vehicular film making, even towing the fish-like Pattinson behind him, Cronenberg is an adroit film maker. Bits and pieces of Cosmoplis shimmer and spark with dark energy, small moments of prophetic gloom and world collapse sneak into the movie at the most surprising moments. Most importantly Cronenberg's sense of dialogue pacing is absolutely incredible in this movie. Every syllable drips with venom and meaning, even Pattinson's machine-gun fierce delivery is sometimes captivating.

The second thing that is breathtakingly unique about this film is its intellectual exploration. This quality owes a large debt to DeLillo's source material but the way its presented in the film is really quite lovely. Your milage may vary, if you don't like being presented with flat out philosophical ideas then you might find these long discussion frustrating and obtuse. We are so rarely presented with ideas in film, I mean real ideas, things we must internalize and examine rather than just perceiving the shape of the moral cliche. For people who want to be confronted with some clever, twisty ideas this film has some great nuggets of evil capitalism in it. It certainly kept me thinking about it long after the movie was over.

Cosmopolis might never be lifted up as a shining example of film making but its so captivatingly in its ideas that you shouldn't miss it. It plays out with such a feverish intensity that you can't drag your eyes away from it. Things about it will surprise you. Concepts will unfold in front of you as we travel across the wasteland of the city. If you don't balk at the idea of a business philosophy acid trip then watch this movie. Its something interesting, a roller coaster of shiny corporate double speak, cooked in New York sweat and grease. It will never be one of Cronenberg's best movies but it might be one of his most interesting.

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Marina (10 years ago) Reply

I agree nearly completely with the review but in the months since I've seen this I've come to conclude that Pattinson is actually a great choice for this because he's exactly NOT what you'd expect. I think the fact that he's not commandeering of attention is actually a good thing. It seems to add a layer to the ideas the movie puts forth (even if some of them are buried so deep they're nearly indecipherable).


Charles Widmore (10 years ago) Reply

This is becoming more and more common, with movies like Buried, Brake, Phone Booth and The Sunset Limited restricting the story to a single location. Of course, it's been done before, like in Hitchcock's Rope.


j.j. (10 years ago) Reply

Such a shame - the poster has this wonderful surreal, foreboding look to it. The trailer makes the film look clunky and over-lit. :( I was hoping for another 'crash' with that strange menace in the air.


robin (7 years ago) Reply

It's an exceedingly excellent film. Anyone with an interest in something outside the mainstream owes it to themselves to watch it.

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