18 June 2012

Review: Cosmopolis

(Dir: David Cronenberg, 2012)

Any new David Cronenberg film is something to get excited about. Over the past forty years Cronenberg has proven himself to be the master at mixing intelligence with darkness, shocking horror and the bizarre. He’s one of my favourite directors. His recent work has shifted focus from the disquieting body horror of old towards something more restrained in its acuity. A Dangerous Method, his last film, may have felt like a toned down version of Crash, but rather than taking that film’s stark approach of documenting the cold metallic sexual dysmorphia of it’s protagonists, A Dangerous Method chose restraint and a more clinical analysis based on words over visuals. This trend continues with Cosmopolis, his latest film.

Based on the Don DeLillo novel from 2003, Cosmopolis centers on young billionaire businessman Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) who decides one morning he wants to get a haircut across town, setting him on a journey in the protective bubble of his modified stretch limousine. With the limo functioning as a mobile office people come and go throughout his journey, but all the while various events transpire to make his world start to crumble around him.

I’ve not read the original book but having read two other DeLillo novels (End Zone and Underworld) I felt I was somewhat prepared for what to expect. This isn’t easy going light entertainment of the ilk that Pattinson’s core audience are probably used too, this is dialogue heavy with a great use of language full of weighty ideas. It’s cerebral. This is not a watch once and fully understand everything that’s being discussed type of film, unless of course you know the book or are way more intelligent than I. There’s plenty I didn’t grasp or fully appreciate. I’m not sure I can adequately talk about everything that I do know was discussed and debated. I kind of like it that way. 

Pattinson is the core of the film. Everything revolves around his character so this casting was critical. He works in the role; he’s loquacious, narcissistic and carries a devious intelligence that belies his age but not his power. Dialogue is delivered well and it’s a fascinating script, even if at times it’s a bit of struggle to fully grasp. However it gets easier once we’ve settled into the cadence of DeLillo’s language and Pattinson’s delivery and there are some intriguing discussions. The one that particularly stands out (essentially every scene amounts to a conversation with someone who appears for only one scene, with one or two exceptions) involves Paul Giamatti, who does a fantastic job and there’s great vocal sparring between the pair.

There is a slight theatrical vibe to the film, with a good proportion of the events tied to the single location of the limousine, but this doesn’t get suffocating as Packer does escape its confines venturing into restaurants, bookshops, hotels. Cronenberg has never struck me as someone who directs with great visual flair, rather he always lets the content do the talking, and things are no different here, which really puts the focus on the actors and the dialogue. The portentous use of sound adds another interesting layer too.

How much I liked Cosmopolis is somewhat determined by how much of an enigma it remains to me. I didn’t gain enough to fully understand everything it was reaching for, but its thoughts on economics, business, technology, sex, power, existence and more, intrigued me and are awaiting greater unravelling with further viewings. Admittedly films of this cerebral nature appeal to me because I like the challenge they present and Cronenberg’s films have always played with this. The stripped down dialogue-led style works, although part of me still hungers for the twisted viscera of old. Whether his intention is to leave that style behind for good, I don't know, but despite Cosmopolis not standing anywhere close to his best work, it fits neatly with the direction he’s been heading in recently and retains a voracity for ideas that is reassuring. I will definitely be rewatching Cosmopolis, and as ever I remain intrigued about where Cronenberg will go next.