Review: Cosmopolis


I’ve always been a big defender of Robert Pattinson. My argument is that he’s a reasonably normal person and a solid actor that got trapped by the Twilight franchise playing a character he himself admits is really pretty badly drawn. I’ve always been of the mind that, with the right role, he’ll be able to actually establish himself as an actor and not as this heartthrob non-entity. Cosmopolis seemed like the first real chance Pattinson got to stretch his acting legs post-Twilight and show what he can really do (I don’t count Water for Elephants, since that was basically an middle of the road picture on every level). I mean, it’s a David Cronenberg movie. If nothing else, Cronenberg’s films have some pretty complex, interesting protagonists, and that sounds to me like a real role for an actor to sink his teeth into.

Sadly, Cosmopolis is absolutely dreadful, and Pattinson is equally dreadful, though that’s probably just as attributable to the pedantic, monologue-packed script as it is to his own flat characterization.

Director: David Cronenberg
Rating: R
Release Date: August 17, 2012 (limited)

Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson), billionaire asset manager, needs a haircut. Despite a number of security concerns from his head of security, Torval (Kevin Durand), he embarks on a day-long journey in his high-tech limousine across Manhattan, in total gridlock thanks to a visit from the president. As he makes his way across town, watching his fortune go up in smoke as he trades against the Chinese Yuan, he takes in-car meetings with everyone from his central tech guy (Jay Baruchel) to his mistress (Juliette Binoche) to his frigid new wife (Sarah Gadon). Also, someone may be trying to kill him for reasons unknown. 

This is one of those movies that Has A Message And You Will Listen To It. As characters enter and exit Packer’s sealed little world, they’ve all got something to say about the capitalist society that we live in and how it affects people, from those suffering at the bottom to those at the top cut off from actual human emotion. This is an interesting notion, which is personified by the aloof Packer, who barely shows a shred of feeling in the film for anything other than sex, food, or acquiring things. Unfortunately, such a message requires a nuanced approach, and Cosmopolis fails spectacularly in that regard. The film is populated by characters delivering monologues spelling out the exact nature and philosophy that the filmmaker wants you to hear at that particular moment. Once that is achieved, Packer delivers some sort of response, usually to reinforce his character’s aloofness, even in the face of complete financial ruin, or, when talking to his wife, expresses his insatiable desire to have sex. This continues for just under two hours. Two hours of monologue after monologue after monologue. Even when he finally reaches the barber shop, there’s ten minutes of fucking monologues. This isn’t a movie; it’s a lecture.

Characterization is spotty, as most serve only to espouse their section of the film’s philosophy before vanishing forever. Who, for instance, is Samantha Morton’s character, Vija Kinsky? Hell if I know. She spent forever talking about the downfall of civilization and the destruction of the economy. The same can be said for almost everyone in the film, except for Packer and Paul Giamatti’s character, Benno Levin, who only appears at the end of the film. The protagonist and Benno are the only figures with any semblance of a real character in the movie. Keep in mind, I’m not saying their “real” characters are multi-faceted or interesting in anyway. They’re just a step up from mouthpieces, which is what everyone else in the movie is.

There’s an argument to be made that this sort of overly-didactic, character-less affair is exactly the point of the film, trying to show how Packer himself dispassionately views the world as a series of objects, assets to be acquired and managed. This is an interesting notion, but it’s betrayed by the complete lack of awareness the script shows for other characters and ideas. There’s no artistry to the way the characters are presented to Packer. They appear before him like supplicants to a king’s throne, say their piece, then exit. Packer accepts the information and moves on to the next person. There’s no sense of continuity or plot driving the movie forward. There’s just this series of scene after scene, some of which have similar thematic threads. About the only moment of truly plot-driving action comes at the very end of the film, when Packer verbally spars with the man that’s trying to kill him in a ruined apartment. Even that, the climax of the film, drags on an on as both characters just spew nothingness out of their mouths. I’ve seen livelier conversations at high school debate team meets carried out entirely in Morse code.

Spoiler alert: he eventually gets the haircut.

I was also stunned at how uninteresting the cinematography wound up being. Cronenberg usually has some pretty amazing camera work in his films, but Cosmopolis certainly bucks that trend. The scenes shot in the limo are suitably claustrophobic, though there’s occasionally some terrible green screen work out the window. I felt like I was seeing matte lines around Robert Pattinson’s head in a shot or two, they were so bad. There’s also this terrible two or three minute-long take near the end where Packer goes into a bathroom while his assailant is talking to him, and they both walk way into the background, and the camera just sits there. On one figure talking to another, who is behind a bathroom stall door, vaguely out of focus. This isn’t a play, though the dialogue and the pacing suggests it may have been better suited as one.

Cosmopolis is an absolute train wreck. Terribly paced, poorly written, overly ponderous, and just dull, dull, dull. Stay far away.