Directed by David Cronenberg. Starring Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, Sarah Gadon, Mathieu Amalric, Jay Baruchel, Samantha Morton, Paul Giamatti. (2012, R, 109 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Aug. 24, 2012
I must admit Robert Pattinson does dead extremely well. In the Twilight films, his promise-ring vamp Edward was a model of style over substance (and what else is a corpse but that?). He rivals and then easily surpasses that chilly performance here as the 28-year-old, near-future, Wall Street asset manager, Eric Packer, whose vast fortunes, both literal and metaphorical, take a turn for the doomed, damned, and dialogue-heavy during one bad day in New York City. From the moment we first lay eyes on him, clad in bespoke black with cheaters to match, he's a chilly, funereal phantasm, less human than bleak, symbolic cipher. He is the vampire of the present/future, sucking the life force out of the world by virtue of unseen and unknowable bundled derivatives and fat stacks of black cash. To paraphrase the Bhagavad Gita (and Robert Oppenheimer by extension), he has become death, the destroyer of worlds, including his own. This world bites back.
Cronenberg adapted this sleek, dystopian creep show from Don DeLillo's 2003 novel, and the film is dense with ideas, some playful and some disturbing, about what it means to be human in an age in which the traditional constraints of morality have become ambiguous and befogged. Almost the entire film takes place in Mr. Packer's huge stretch limousine, a hermetically sealed nonplace that he uses as his headquarters and occasional sex pad. (Juliette Binoche turns up as an art dealer promising some Mark Rothko action, but the billionaire Packer desires not a single painting but the entire Rothko Chapel – a grand joke on the ennui-induced extravagant lusts of the ultrarich.) He's traversing New York City to get a haircut from his usual barber, but today the route is bogged down to a crawl, as the president is in town and all normal routes are impassible. During this time, Packer interacts with a variety of people, including his wife, who hop in and out of the car for sundry reasons.
Cosmopolis will probably bore Twilight fans to death and back, and, to be honest, at times I found it slow going myself. It's a film that needs a vast amount of attention paid scene-by-scene; I suspect I'll want to revisit it at some point to see how much I missed the first time round. That said, as a portrait of both man and society in exquisitely poised decline, it’s harrowing, hilarious, and horrific in equal measure.
A correction has been made to this review since it was originally published.