PLOT: A young billionaire on the brink of financial ruin has one hell of a day while traveling in his stretch limo across a New York City that's teetering on the edge of anarchy.
REVIEW: The face of pitiless capitalism belongs to Robert Pattinson in David Cronenberg's COSMOPOLIS, an adaptation of Dom DeLillo's novel of the same name that would most likely be Gordon Gekko's worst nightmare. A strange bird, this is; a talky, play-like art-house project starring one of the world's most recognizable actors in a role not one of his fans wold pay to see him in. Which, of course, means Pattinson is just right. Cronenberg, too, is the right director for the material, so it's curious that this movie just feels wrong. And not in the usual fun, Cronenbergian way. Wrong in the “this simply doesn't work” way.
We're in New York, the President is in town, and we're sitting with Eric Packer (Pattinson) as he crosses town to get a haircut. He's chosen the wrong day for this venture: the president's arrival has congested city blocks every which way, as has a rapper's funeral and the general disarray caused by a frightfully large group of anarchists preaching the evils of greed and the upper class. The year is unspecified, but some kind of revolution seems to be upon us. This is the “Occupy” movement with bats and firepower.
Packer is a billionaire at 28 and a genius at his game, a financial whiz-kid who has all the technology he needs at his feet. He sits like Captain Kirk in a futuristic chair with touch-screens at the base of its armrests inside his limo - a sound-proof construction that acts like a metallic womb, its windows ready to go dark at the press of a button - so he can destroy who he needs to destroy and continue his rise as a rich-beyond-imagination tycoon with the conscience of a wild predator.
Packer's snail-like journey through Manhattan's streets (actually, Toronto's streets) will enable him to meet with a variety of consultants, lovers and associates, though his reaction to almost everybody is one of barely-veiled disdain. Packer is losing millions on this day because he's bet wrong on the Chinese dollar's strength, but he doesn't really care; he's close to losing his mind as well. A threat on his life appears to seal the deal that Eric is determined to take a one-way limo ride to hell, and he can't wait to get there.
It's just too bad we can't wait for this thing to end; COSMOPOLIS is sometimes so dull and pretentious you almost want to tell it to pull over and let you out.
Throughout his career, Cronenberg's characters have often been analytical, cold, calculating. His plots craftily enjoy upsetting these characters with the illogical, the strange and ugly. He seems a natural fit for the tale of Eric Packer, a shallow magnate who absolutely needs his life to be altered in some sick, savage way, for his own sake or for our own. But Cronenberg (directing from his own script) makes this too much of an anti-septic occasion, keeping us at arm's length from everything, from the characters to the dialogue - which never sounds natural or believable in the slightest – to the suspenseless way the story ultimately brings Packer face-to-face with the man who wants to destroy him (Paul Giamatti).
Compounding the problem, COSMOPOLIS has no emotional resonance, because it is about a man who, devoid of almost all human feeling, can't even find catharsis – or hell, enjoyment - in his own self-destruction. It moves from scene to scene rather gracelessly as characters speak in drone-like monotone about the familiar topics: greed, power, the hollowness of wealth, the meaningless of it all, etc. The plot, such as it is, is a clothesline for a slew of eloquent spiels by talented actors who sound like they're rehearsing lines for a play. And, since we pretty much hate Packer from start to finish, we have zero empathy for him or investment in what will happen once he figures out what he wants to do with himself. The film mirrors his detachment all too well: there's no heart or feeling in this thing at all.
I'm unsure of what the statement being made with COSMOPOLIS is, but it can be said that Cronenberg certainly gets everything he needs out of Pattinson, whose dead-eyed stare and creepy smirk fully capture Eric's soulless nonchalance. The actor doesn't turn in a flashy performance (there's no way he could), but he's an intriguing screen presence with a glimmer of something off just behind the eyes that makes me think he has a career in playing psychos and crazies, not pretty boys. He catches plenty of ire because of TWILIGHT, of course, but after that's all over, I do believe he should seek out quirky, bizarre roles that accentuate his inherent weirdness. Even if Eric Packer is a creep lacking in anything likable, Pattinson proves to be very watchable.