From The Filmstage
There are about a million places you could start with this thing.
Oh, hell: “Brilliant.” Cosmopolis is certainly a brilliant film, one filled with all the subtext and qualities we call “cinematic” that you could ask for, but it presents this in a manner so deceptively simple it can only feel like genius. David Cronenberg’s newest effort says inordinate amounts about our society, often, by saying so little, to the point where it feels as though we, the modern audience, are looking into a funhouse mirror only two degrees off from being an exact portrait.
And that’s more terrifying than anything the Canadian auteur has ever put onscreen.
More unsettling, yet, is Cosmopolis’ insistence on what truly constitutes time. Everybody here is moving, everybody is going toward something, everybody is trying to get away from something, yet they’re not reaching anywhere. Cronenberg’s world is one in which time is an inevitable, unstoppable, horrible form of forward momentum which everyone is consumed by with every passing (nano, zepto, centi) second. Whether we’re inhabiting a 20-foot vehicle on the way to a barber or marching in a funeral procession, there’s no real difference; it’s only taking us one step closer toward the end.
Not that you’d get it from the basic “plot,” as it were, in which billionaire Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) decides he needs a haircut. Nothing about his upper appearance would suggest such work is even necessary — heck, his hair is practically short — but he needs one, and he needs to get it at a specific place. With his loyal guard (Kevin Durand), he sets off into the Manhattan streets; the slow collapse of society is just an obstacle to drive through.
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Here’s a great Cosmopolis review from the NSW Law Society Journal (Australia)
“Is it coincidence, or something in the zeitgeist? There’s a curiosity in cinema whereby two films release on the same topic at around the same time (for example, in 2005, Capote(Miller) and Infamous(McGrath)). There are many examples. And it’s happened again.
This month two films appeared featuring a protagonist who rides around a big city in a stretch limo over the course of one day, for the full length of the film, interacting with other characters in a series of vignettes. One was Leos Carax’s very strange Holy Motors(with Kylie Minogue), which divided audiences recently at the Cannes Film Festival. The other was David Cronenberg’s latest, Cosmopolis.
Cronenberg not only directed but wrote the screenplay for Cosmopolis, adapting Don DeLillo’s 2003 book of the same name. Cronenberg has been busy lately. A Dangerous Method, about the relationship between Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, has only just left our cinemas.
DeLillo’s book also divided readers and critics. One critic found it “eerily brilliant”, others considered it a victory of style over substance. The same argument is likely over the film, but I’m on the side of eerie brilliance.
Cronenberg took only six days to adapt the screenplay from the novel, because he found the novel’s dialogue so marvelous. He said he “started typing down all the dialogue from the book on my computer without changing or adding anything. It took me three days. When I was done, I wondered, ‘Is there enough material for a film? I think so’.”
As a result, the dialogue is very literary, not naturalistic. But it is entrancing: more akin to poetry than prose.
It helps that Cronenberg has assembled a fascinating cast to speak this poetic dialogue. First, he recruited teen heartthrob Robert Pattinson, famous for playing a vampire in theTwilight series of films (one every year since 2008, with one more due in 2012). Pattinson plays the lead, 28-year-old billionaire asset manager Eric Packer, who rides across New York in a limo over the course of one day in order to get his hair cut. Pattinson acquits himself very well, handling the arch dialogue with wit and precision.
A passing parade of actors encounters Packer one by one, mostly in the limo but occasionally outside. Among others, there’s his head of security (Kevin Durand), chief of technology (a twitchy Jay Baruchel), a former lover and current art adviser (Juliet Binoche), chief of theory (Samantha Morton, who has the most abstract dialogue to spout), and his obscenely wealthy wife (Sarah Gadon). Packer’s doctor even conducts daily health checks in the limo, examining his prostate while Packer simultaneously discusses the economy of China and flirts with his chief of finance (Emily Hampshire).
As Packer moves slowly across a gridlocked city (the US President is in town), his currency analyst warns him he’s over-exposed to the Chinese yuan. In the book, nine years old now, it was the yen (how global finance has changed since 2003). His chief of security warns him of a credible threat of assassination (of Packer, not the President), and protestors crowd the streets, daubing the limo with paint. Will Packer’s impassive facade crack under such pressure?
The answer comes in the lead-up to his tense confrontation with Paul Giamatti, playing a disgruntled former employee. It’s another brilliant performance from Giamatti, whose search for life’s meaning is the antithesis of Packer’s ruthless detachment.
There are no answers to the global financial crisis here. That’s not so surprising given the book predated the GFC by some years. But that’s also what’s so astonishing. The book has anticipated so much of what transpired in those intervening years – even down to Rupert Murdoch’s pie in the face! And Cronenberg has managed to transform this difficult, wordy, prescient book into a vehicle as sleek and polished as a limousine.”
Here’s great Cosmopolis review by City Connect
The director David Cronenberg has long been known for making films that are about, at their heart, the human body. Many people refer to his films such as Videodrome and Naked Lunch as part of the ‘body horror’ sub-genre. In actuality, Cronenberg is able to raise his films to a much more intellectual level than that.
With Cosmopolis, David Cronenberg marks a change of course. Instead of making a film about the body, his adaptation of the Don DeLillo novel is much more cerebral. Robert Pattinson plays Eric Packer, a billionaire businessman in a slightly futuristic New York City. Packer decides that he needs a haircut, and decides to take a white limo across town to a barber that he and his father have used for years. Along the way he has meetings in the limo with people who work for him, such as his art consultant (Juliette Binoche), his chief advisor (Samantha Morton), and several meetings with his estranged wife (Sarah Gadon). Along the way, Packer finds out that he’s losing money at a staggering rate, while his chief of security (Kevin Durand) informs him that a former employee (Paul Giamatti) has made a threat to kill him.
Considering all this, Cosmopolis moves at a surprisingly slow pace. Characters come and go from the limo (where the majority of the film takes place), after having conversations with Packer that make up scenes that last ten minutes. The final scene in the film when Packer confronts his homicidal ex-employee lasts almost twenty minutes. This is quite a daring thing to do, and should only really be done if the script is particularly superb, which in this case it certainly is. Cronenberg for the most part keeps the awkward and bizarrely crafted dialogue used in DeLillo’s novel. The characters speak in almost Pinter-esque ways, with a strange structure that pretty much strips it of all emotion.
Similarly in a Pinter-esque way, the events that take place outside the limo are almost treated like they don’t exist. At one point when Packer is talking to his chief advisor, the limo is attacked by a crowd rioting on the streets against capitalism. The graffiti and rock the limo from side to side, all the time Packer and his guest continue their conversation like it’s not even happening. The view from Packer’s limo is quite often of a world that looks artificial and manufactured.
Even the characters themselves come across as artificial beings. Robert Pattinson gives the best performance of his career as the mega rich Eric Packer. For want of a better analogy, Pattinson turns Packer into this vamperic character, who doesn’t react to anything that happens around him. He’s completely cut off emotionally, as are the rest of the characters. But in the case of Pattinson’s performance, it is more highlighting the soullessness of people who benefit the most from capitalism.
Herein lies the main point the film tries to make; the dangers of capitalism. Cosmopolis is set in the not so distant future, and considering the riots, and banks and businesses that only benefit the rich, this is rather timely. It is a bleak but still plausible vision of what the world will look like in twenty years’ time, maybe even less than that; a world filled with social uprising while the mega rich drive in their limos completely oblivious to it all.
Many people have criticised the film for not being emotionally engaging, but on the whole it does seem the point of Cronenberg’s film. He doesn’t want you to empathise with Packer, he wants you to see what the world is like around him, and try and figure out how it all connects to his own path of self-destruction. It is a superbly slick and stylish film, with a great cast led by the superb Robert Pattinson, and a truly unique script. Cronenberg tackles the difficult questions about capitalism, and with great intelligence and originality, leaves the audience with just enough room to try and figure out what is going on for themselves. In my opinion, the best film of 2012 so far.
Here’s a great new review by Sabotage Times
“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.
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.
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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From The Independent
David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis is a very stylish work. It should be, because it’s a film largely about style. Its theme is the heartless, even sociopathic detachment with which today’s hyper-rich lead their hermetically cushioned-in lives. The problem with stories satirising decadence is that what they satirise can end up looking seductive. What’s to stop Cosmopolis becoming as vacantly chic as the world it depicts?
The answer is Cronenberg’s ironic intelligence – although this is so finely tuned that it’s hard to pin down quite how it works. That’s why some of his most provocative films – among them, Crash and eXistenZ, both of them echoed here – are among his most misunderstood.
Cosmopolis courts the same fate. The source is Don DeLillo’s 2003 novel about a young billionaire financier, Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson), who spends a day riding across Manhattan in his state-of-the-art limo. He’s ostensibly after a haircut, but in reality – as his reckless financial speculations threaten to sink both him and the entire global economy – he’s heading for a rendezvous with death, truth, the impenetrable dark beyond his world’s luminous spectacle. He is, you might say, cruising for a transcendental bruising.
Cronenberg hasn’t so much adapted as transcribed the novel: he’s trimmed its incident but left much of DeLillo’s hyper-stylised dialogue. The film records Packer’s progress across town, his car moving with regal slowness because of various obstacles: among them, a presidential cortege, the funeral of a Sufi rapper, an angry demo directed precisely at people like Eric. Occasionally Eric picks up passengers with whom he engages in serious, sometimes abstract discussion. An elegant woman (Juliette Binoche) joins him for businesslike sex – then rolls around coquettishly while discussing the viability of Eric’s prospective art purchases. Hirelings discuss numbers, currency fluctuations, the “microtimed” nature of post-modern knowledge, in the case of Vija Kinsky (Samantha Morton), Eric’s “head of theory”. Another woman (Emily Hampshire) comes on board in time to witness Eric’s daily rectal exam – which makes for a grotesquely comic flirtation, Eric leaning over her like a tortured Francis Bacon nude.
Eric’s ultimate appointment is with Benno Levin (Paul Giamatti), an angry ex-employee who embodies an abandoned pre-digital culture. En route, there are other stops to make, including several dreamily happenstance encounters with Elise (Sarah Gadon), the wife that Eric hardly knows.
Here’s what I mean about style: see Cosmopolis in a cinema with good sound, and listen to the way that Gadon’s silky, incantatory voice is recorded so that it’s like a physical object, filling the space around it. This might seem merely an effect, but it’s intrinsic to the outright difference of this film. Cosmopolis uses sound and silence brilliantly. The limo is a space capsule drifting weightlessly through town, excluding all external noise – which implodes into the car the second its doors open.
The car is at once throne room and coffin, its black leather interior as fetishistically realised as anything in Cronenberg’s car-sex drama Crash (look at Binoche’s stiletto propped post-coitally on the console). Outside, the world’s disorder scrolls frictionlessly by, like a live stream of a pageant happening in another universe.
The limo is Eric’s psyche, which can only remain security-sealed for so long; by and by, the world and his own mortality will get to him. But the car is also a stage for an ambulant chamber drama: this is the most overtly theatrical film Cronenberg has made, a series of heightened two-handers, culminating in the apocalyptic showdown with Giamatti’s Levin.
As for what Cosmopolis says about the current financial abyss, I’m not sure it’s that interested in pursuing the diagnoses of DeLillo’s book. What the film does explore, mesmerisingly, is the riddle of how to turn a book about a limo ride into an experience that is itself a ride – or rather a glide. Such is the film’s out-and-out otherness that Robert Pattinson – who puts up a strong, wryly amused show as the savagely blank Eric – himself becomes a stylistic element among many. This is a surpassingly odd film that some will reject outright, but I was totally won over. Cosmopolis may, like Packer’s limo, be an elaborately conceived but essentially vacant vehicle – yet it has a master at the wheel
“Even if someone other than Twilight’s Robert Pattinson had played him, even without the unsettling, undead attitude that the young Briton did bring to the role, the protagonist in Cosmopolis would be called a blood-sucking capitalist.
That is exactly what makes this quintessentially American character so interesting, both in Don DeLillo’s dystopian novel and now in David Cronenberg’s film adaptation. The fictional Eric Packer represents the dynamic and mysterious tribe of real-life Wall Street entrepreneurs who have corrupted the system and robbed the rest of us blind through greed. This is a post-modern morality tale that now intersects with the economic crisis of 2008-09, even though DeLillo published his book five years earlier.
Greed is still good … or is it? Of course not. Eric Packer is an anti-hero, an outlaw, a parasite in the trappings of a peacock. Adopting a convincing American accent, Pattinson aces the role despite his panic attacks before the film starting shooting in Toronto. Super-rich, slickly dressed in gray, hiding behind sunglasses, happiest inside his white stretch limo in the streets of Manhattan, Packer is living the louche life of luxury and debauchery.”
Read the full review at Toronto Sun