Cosmopolis review: A blockbuster of the mind
3 (out of 4)
Starring Robert Pattinson, Paul Giamatti, Sarah Gadon and Juliette Binoche. Written and directed by David Cronenberg. 108 minutes. Opens June 8 at the Varsity and Sheppard Grande. 14A
David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis is a blockbuster of the mind, fascinating as much for what the Toronto director shows as for what he chooses not to.
Sex, violence, despair and talk, talk, talk fill this dystopian road movie. Twilight’s Robert Pattinson stars as a dissolute billionaire in a stretch limousine, cruising a Toronto made to resemble New York (more or less).
There are extreme visuals that cross cinematographer Peter Suschitzky’s unblinking lens, including flung dead rats and a Taser-packing naked woman. But there aren’t as many as you might expect.
Significantly missing is a nude orgy scene, an epiphanic part of Don DeLillo’s 2003 source novel, involving 300 people in a Manhattan intersection. Cronenberg skipped it, thinking it would look fake on film.
The writer/director also literally dodges a bullet — or rather declines to show it — in one key moment, another significant departure from the book. That moment comes at the end of a long discussion that suggests the stage more than it does the screen.
Cronenberg has chosen to make Cosmopolis not the conventional thriller it could have been, and perhaps would have been if directed by a more commercially minded filmmaker.
He favours the ear over the eye, insisting that we listen to the often gloomy but perceptive (and timely) comments about capitalism, society and humanity made by the many players on his stage.
And what an odd stage it is: a white stretch limo soundproofed with cork and tricked out with full bar, a hideaway urinal and an onboard ultrasound machine. The latter underlines the womb-like nature of this conveyance.
Ensconced within for a day-long odyssey — shades of James Joyce’s Ulysses — is Pattinson’s Eric Packer, a 28-year-old money trader who has made billions on Wall Street but lost his soul and possibly his mind in the process.
He could also be in the midst of losing his fortune on this very day, owing to speculation on the Japanese yen that could rock not only Packer’s company, but the entire global economy.
The ostensible reason for his journey is to get a haircut in his childhood neighbourhood, far from the concrete canyons of Manhattan. To get there, against the advice of his security chief (Kevin Durand), he’ll have to cross blockades and traffic jams caused by a presidential visit, a rapper’s funeral and a riot by “99 percenters.”
There are a lot of other interruptions to Packer’s picaresque journey, which is set to Howard Shore’s Floydian score and tunes by rock band Metric and rapper K’Naan.
Packer’s new wife, icily essayed by Toronto’s Sarah Gadon, demands attention while shunning intimacy. She may paradoxically be the most flesh-and-blood person in this fractured fairy tale: “I don’t know how to be indifferent,” she tells her apathetic husband.
Packer also encounters a couple of hookups (Juliette Binoche, Patricia McKenzie) who provide sex but want cash; an “action painter” (Mathieu Amalric) who uses an unusual canvas; and a former business associate (Paul Giamatti) who may want Packer’s life.
All of them are very free with their opinions, criticisms and philosophies. “Life is too contemporary,” a post-coital Binoche observes.
Packer can buy almost anything or anyone he wants, including “priceless” paintings that actually do have a price.
But he’s not happy: “I’m looking for more.”
He’s prepared to go to extremes on this day, and that includes getting an onboard prostate exam from a mobile doctor, one of the film’s moments of whimsy.
Packer shrugs off how his odd behaviour might affect his image, or his life: “Everything’s a scandal. Dying is a scandal, but we all do it.”
Very well played by Pattinson as a mash of guile and naivety, Packer would have made a good patient for the subjects of A Dangerous Method, Cronenberg’s previous movie. Doctors Freud and Jung would have loved to analyze this road warrior with their “talking cure” methods.
We might quibble with the emphasis Cronenberg places on dialogue, on the staginess of his sets and on the relative lack of action. This is not the return to the visceral Cronenberg of old that the first trailer implied.
What we can’t argue is that Cosmopolis is the work of a master filmmaker, one who is determined to have us think about the ideas packed into the trunk of this limo bound for the furthest corners of the psyche.
Credit => Toronto.com / Via => Thinking of Rob