“Prepare to be surprised” reads the tagline for Cosmopolis, David Cronenberg’s long awaited adaptation of Don DeLillo’s novel, and given the fact that teen idol Robert Pattinson adorns the posters, slumped over in a beast of a limousine, you get the feeling that it’s his performance that we’re being directed towards. He is arguably the biggest star of the moment, thrown from relative obscurity into the blinding light via the Twilight series, and the legion of batshit fans that it has managed to accrue. The worry for Pattinson in becoming so closely associated with one role is that the more popular Twilight becomes, and certainly it’s showing no signs of abating, the harder it will be for him to craft a career for himself when the franchise inevitably comes to a close.
Kudos to him then for taking on Cosmopolis, a dark, challenging, radical change of pace directed by David Cronenberg. I’ll cut right to the chase: The film is an absolute work of art, and Robert Pattinson’s performance is nothing short of stunning.
“I want to get a haircut” young billionaire Eric Packer (Pattinson) demands at the start of the film. “The President is in town, streets will be stripped from the map” his security warns him. Packer doesn’t care. He wants to get a hair-cut, and he wants to get it across town. He’s a billionaire, used to getting what he wants, the world revolves around him and him alone.
The film is an absolute work of art, and Robert Pattinson’s performance is nothing short of stunning.
So this is the film: Packer driving across town to get his mop-chopped, whilst outside New York is in the middle of a riot against capitalism. On the face of it this could be construed as a fairly cynical attempt at exploiting the zeitgeist, juxtaposing a whole city of unrest with one man’s inconsequential desire, a banker-bashing tract without any real cinematic longevity. This is what I feared it would be. How utterly, utterly wrong I was.
What the film manages to do brilliantly is inject action and a vibrant kineticism into a small space, in this case the limousine in which the majority of the story takes place. Packer sits on his leather throne like a drunken marionette as people enter and exit his vehicle, either to warn him, advise him, protect him, examine his prostate or fuck him, and his reaction is similarly non-plussed whether he’s being told of a threat on his life or whether he’s got Juliette Binoche writhing around his crotch. This is the most important thing to know about Packer as a character, he is completely alienated by the real world around him, instead he deals in abstractions. To him, time is currency. We see him getting excited about septillionths of seconds and wanting to buy a church full of Rothko paintings, but little else.
Packer sits on his leather throne like a drunken marionette as people enter and exit his vehicle, either to warn him, advise him, protect him, examine his prostate or fuck him
Despite this, Packer strives to understand the physical, the concrete. He constantly re-affirms his knowledge by repeating the line “I know this”, whilst also spending the film seeking out food and sex, or occasionally extreme self-mutilation in order, seemingly, to experience anything other than the figures which fill his head. The only other film in recent memory which takes a similar stance would be David Fincher’s Fight Club, which simultaneously critiques and positions itself within a capitalist framework, at the same time examining the effect money and corporate enterprises have on masculinity. The script is brilliant at enforcing this point. It reads like the poetry of capitalism, occasionally very funny, occasionally incredibly dense to the point of being completely alienating to the viewer, deliberately so. Not having read DeLillo’s novel I don’t know how much of the script was lifted directly from the source material and how much Cronenberg wrote himself, but certainly the dialogue flows beautifully and with a ferocious rhythm.
Speaking of rhythm, the film’s score, somewhat reminiscent of John Carpenter’s Escape From New York, is phenomenal. If the soundtrack to Drive got everyone excited last year, then this one is just as good. Electric, energetic, tense and overbearing, it lifts some scenes to stratospheric levels, not least the film’s pitch-perfect climax.
Six people walked out of the Cosmopolis screening I attended, presumably they were twi-hards who wanted to see Robert Pattinson be Robert Pattinson, or maybe they wanted something linear and easy to follow. Ignore them and go and see this film, probably the most exciting piece of cinema this century.
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