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Movie Review: Cosmopolis (2012)

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I didn’t think I would ever admit this, but David Cronenberg has found the perfect use for Robert Pattinson in Cosmopolis (2012). The crooked grin that reveals a fang that will forever betray the role that made him famous, the pale face with a hint of peachy pinkness so inappropriate for such harshly delineated bone structure, the ability of his nose to crinkle disgustedly as if he smells something funny while no one else does – all these invaluable talents of Pattinson’s work great to create the character of the abominable Eric Packer. Hats off to the director. He finally found some use for new Hollywood blood.

Trendy Fiction and Spiritual Rot

Cronenberg, famous for taking on unfilmable novels and turning them into somewhat watchable films, tackles Don DeLillo’s novel of the same name here, and retells it cinematically, almost word for word (unlike the new Total Recall, another adaptation of literary dystopia in theatres now). David Cronenberg, who is usually interested in bodily horror, is more focused on bodily functions here, showing Eric Packer having sex, eating, urinating, drinking, etc. If his previous efforts were studies of corporal degeneration, Cosmopolis is a similar study of spiritual rotting, or at least that’s what the director wants us to think.

Eric the Great

Eric Packer (Pattinson) loves his clothes, computer screens, information charts and naked women, as the Cosmopolis trailer suggests. He is pink cheeked in one frame and pale of face in the next, but always handsome. On his way to a barber (who is more than a barber, of course) on a day when no one should be on their way anywhere unless they need urgent medical attention, he has numerous meetings with his chief of technology (Jay Baruchel), currency analyst (Philip Nozuka), his lover/art adviser (Juliette Binoche), and a substitute doctor who casually examines his prostate while he chats away with his finance chief (Emily Hampshire), a sweaty single mom snapped out of a jogging session (and that’s on her bloody day off!). This is how normal Eric Parker’s life is.

The Beautiful Background

Eric’s wife Elise (Sarah Gadon), a very wealthy poet, is strangely around a bit too frequently for a person allegedly elusive and secretive. Eric says he never sees her, complaining they don’t bond enough, yet they bump into each other all the time. She doesn’t want to have sex because she needs energy (I wonder if Freud’s fans are aware that it’s 2012).  They are newlyweds, yet she says that it is already over. Her strange character fits right into Howard Shore’s foreboding score, just as quiet yet uncomfortable as a rumbling stomach.

Just like Elise, the supporting characters in Cosmopolis are almost more interesting than the leading man. The driver Torval (Kevin Durand) is harsh and funny at the same time.  The head of security Torval (Kevin Durand) has a face as unreadable as the small print on a well-crafted prenuptial. The ‘pastry assassin’ (Mathieu Amalric) gives a dramatic speech of such idiocy it is bound to linger. And of course there is the real stalker, Benno Levin (Paul Giamatti), an unhappy former employee whose nail fungus talks to him (I think I would have done better without having seen his ugly ass; I feel so jealous of the three lucky guys who walked out from a very scanty premiere in Minsk). The best character in Cosmopolis, however is the limo, it looks almost better than the ship in Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, with its supertechnical computer screens, black leather and marble floors.

The Smelly Dynamics

If there are movies about character development, Cosmopolis is that movie. At first Eric is confined in his ivory tower, distanced from the people in the streets. But he begins to get out more and more, virtually not caring about being without protection in the most dangerous part of the city. He is immaculately dressed in the beginning; by the end he is disheveled, his hair looks like he has a severe case of shingles and his face is smothered in pie. You can almost smell his degradation, along with his liberation – two things that sometimes go hand in hand.

The Fake Drama

Besides a tender moment during the rapper’s funeral (the soundtrack song would be on repeat in this household if I could find it), the histrionics here are as false and cheap as Juliette Binoche writhing on the marble floor, playing a 40 year old at 48, sliding off the black leather seat onto the floor (and that’s after not before she has an orgasm), then sitting straight up to give prim and proper professional advice on investing into a painting. Pattinson is good, his face simply made to elude perspiring emotions during an ass checkup. But he is incapable of being hysterical, of stripping himself to naked nerves. Strictly speaking, he is not an actor but a model, and apparently that’s what women want these days.

The Social Commentary

Besides showing us in so many ways how vile Eric is (he has a 31 million dollar ex-Soviet plane he goes to visit in the middle of nowhere – but it can’t fly because of a missing part), what could Cronenberg be communicating to the world. That anarchists solidify the existing system by opposing it? That the pie terrorist is part of the system; he is just as money- and power-hungry as the people he attacks: he has careful tactics, he protects his brand, he has a dedicated team, a signature style, a market, etc. That Eric’s arch enemy has dedicated his whole life to him and identifies with the billionaire completely. They are all zombies, vegetating off others, leading a reactionary existence instead of being pro-active and leaving the owner-slave system for something new.

The Big Festival Tricks

David Cronenberg is also part of the system. He positions himself on the edge, but that is nothing but pretense. He knows the recipe for Cannes-friendly brew is to take an unfilmable, semi-subversive book, turn it into a reverently faithful yet quirky adaptation in his signature style, hire an actor with a keen teen and Twitter following and get as many paparazzi to the place as possible.

Verdict: Cosmopolis may be an odyssey through the streets of NYC but a cinematic Ulysses it is not. It may be the best Robert Pattinson role to date, but that’s not saying much. Word of mouth, here we come.

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About Sviatlana Piatakova