The fact that a book is described as ‘unfilmable’ has never put off David Cronenberg. In 1992 he released the flawed but fascinating adaptation of William S.Burroughs seminal Naked Lunch then in 1996 came the controversy which surrounded his version of JG Ballard’s Crash which was sadly ignored in favour of the outrage which overwhelmed the film. Now for his latest adaptation of tricky material Cronenberg turns to Don DeLillo and his novel Cosmopolis which it seems he has literally copied and pasted on to film as the film makes no concessions for the five times a year multiplex customer at all.
The plot on the surface is simplicity itself, dot com billionaire Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) leaves his office to get in a high tech, impenetrable limousine to travel across the city to get a haircut. Outside of his metallic bubble, the economy collapses due to something Packer had a hand in and riots break out with people targeting Packer for assassination. On his journey Packer tries to connect with his new wife, has sex with a couple of employees, gets a prostate exam and encounters a bizarre cult built around rats. What we learn as the journey progresses is Packer is self-destructing and is learning something about real life outside of his world as he goes.
Cosmopolis is probably the most un-Cronenberg thing that David Cronenberg has ever done. It has the cold detached eye of much of his work but here is presented in an unusual way and without the usual recognisable body horror tropes and Howard Shore score that goes with it. Shore’s work here is minimal and really outside of what we usually get from him, more of a propulsive hum than a regular orchestral accompaniment. Characters speak in a weird cadence where they spout philosophical musings about the world and the economy and each monologue is met with a question which is instead answered with more pondering.
At the half hour mark you are either going to be fascinated by what you are seeing or you will have completely lost interest. Sticking with the film and where it goes is rewarding though, as Packer gets more and more outside of his own world and back to his roots (in a fashion) the people he meets get less pretentious. We learn more about the character and what his life is like and the dialogue gets less challenging and more the pitter-patter of normal everyday folk. A scene in a barbershop between two characters that have lived a life of hard graft is the most human moment in the film and its telling that when confronted with this it’s too much for Packer to take.
Say what you will about the Twilight series but you can’t lay the blame at the feet of Robert Pattinson who is just playing an iconic character written to appeal to young teenage girls. Common opinion seems to be that once the series is over, Pattinson is pretty much done. His work in Cosmopolis proves that he is actually the real deal, Pattinson is in every scene and carries the film with ease having to cope with heavy dialogue in scenes that seem to favour a really long take. His portrayal of the character is flawless, a world of pain in his eyes always simmering below the surface of his controlled and manicured exterior. Due to the film mostly taking place in a limousine, Cosmopolis does at times feel less like a film and more like a stage production and Cronenberg favouring the aforementioned long takes doesn’t help matters much. When you have actors of the calibre of Juliet Binoche, Paul Giamatti and Samantha Morton popping up in pivotal moments to deliver the weird, wonderful dialogue of Don DeLillo though, then much of it is just a pleasure to watch.
Cosmopolis is perhaps the most un-commercial film released this year but somehow starring everyone’s favourite pin-up. It’s also one of the most rewarding experiences this year if you have the ear and patience for it and a timely film about the fragility of our world and the people who control it.