David Cronenberg's timely adaptation of the Dom DeLillo novel

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Rating CosmopolisCosmopolisCosmopolisCosmopolis

Directed by David Cronenberg. Starring Robert Pattinson, Paul Giamatti, Jay Baruchel, Kevin Durand, Juliette Binoche, Samantha Morton, K’Naan, Sarah Gadon, Mathieu Amalric, Emily Hampshire. Written by David Cronenberg, based on the novel by Don DeLillo.

Watching Robert Pattinson ride around in a limo on his way to get a haircut for 100+ minutes may not sound like your idea of entertainment, and to be sure, the majority of David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis is an admire-more-than-you-actively-enjoy kind of film. But I did admire it: timely, impeccably-produced, and thought-provoking, this is genuinely interesting stuff.

Cosmopolis is based on the widely-acclaimed 2003 novel by Dom DeLillo (unread by me), which was generally said to be unfilmable; going by the results here, that description may be somewhat accurate. But this isn’t the first time Cronenberg has tackled ‘unfilmable’ material; his 1991 adaptation of William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch didn’t make much of an impact at the time, but has since come to be regarded as one of the director’s finest films. Perhaps a similar fate awaits Cosmopolis.

Or maybe not. A lot of Cosmopolis is pretty tough to take, with young Billionaire and Wall Street one-percenter Eric Packer (Pattinson) taking what seems to be an endless limo ride across New York City to get to his preferred barber. This ride comes against the advice of his security detail, led by Torval (Kevin Durand), who walks alongside the limo as it crawls down the streets, and warns of security risks involving protestors and a presidential visit that has left traffic at a near-standstill.

Along the way, Eric meets with members of his staff (including Jay Baruchel and Samantha Morton), sometime-lovers (Juliette Binoche and Patricia McKenzie), a street artist (Mathieu Amalric) who stages an attack, rapper Kosmo Thomas (Gouchy Boy), who informs him of the death of one of his favorite musicians (K’Naan), and occasionally, his new wife (Sarah Gadon), who couldn’t be less interested in him.

What do they discuss? Finance, philosophy, love… Individual scenes work fine, but there’s a real disconnect with the overall picture. Eric watches the Japanese Yen like a hawk, and speaks of a poem he read where rats become a new unit of currency. As timely as the material is – moreso today than when DeLillo wrote the novel a decade ago – thematically, the film is a muddle until the very end.

A great deal of Cosmopolis is blatantly offputting; there isn’t a single likeable character in sight, and the film feels like too many ideas are being stuffed inside too short a timeframe. But the film really comes alive towards the end, first when Eric finally reaches his barber destination, and then a long finale involving a character played by Paul Giamatti, the bitter opposite of Packer who actually shares a great deal in common with him.

During these scenes, the film finally becomes lifted from the realm of murky philosophy and becomes a living, breathing picture – themes come together and a thesis in finally formed. These scenes were enough to save Cosmopolis for me, but others may be alienated by the dialogue-heavy nature of the film as a whole. Rewatch value, however, should be high.

I’m not entirely sold on Pattinson’s performance here – he feels, frankly, a little out of place starring in a David Cronenberg film – and he certainly doesn’t bring the same kind of energy to the role that Christian Bale brought to a similar character in American Psycho. Still, he’s an interesting presence, as he was in Bel Ami, Water for Elephants, and Remember Me; out of the young Twilight crew, Pattinson is clearly making the most interesting decisions about where to take his career.

The film looks and sounds great, with striking cinematography by Peter Suschitzky (who has shot each of Cronenberg’s films dating back to Dead Ringers) and a vibrant original score by Howard Shore. If Cosmopolis is not a film that can be easily enjoyed, it’s at least a rich and interesting piece of work that can be appreciated for the ideas it contains and the level filmmaking used to convey them.

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