Movie Review: Cosmopolis (2012)

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David Cronenberg’s relationship with horror fans has become a weird one. On one hand, he’s obviously the gooey master who blew up heads in Scanners, freak-ified children in The Brood, and just straight-up deconstructed the entire human body in his The Fly remake. On the other, he’s often been working in an artier, more subdued style for the last twenty years or so. No doubt films from Spider to Eastern Promises are excellent; but if you go in expecting something more slimy and disturbing, your eyes might glaze over a bit. So where does Cosmopolis sit on the C-man’s oeuvre?

While it’s another damn fine film, you’ve got to once again go in expecting something more reserved – weird in entirely different ways. Cosmopolis is an adaptation of a 2003 novel by post-modern author Don DeLillo. It tells of a day in the life of Eric Parker, a young, out-of-touch multi-billionaire, traveling through the city of Manhattan in a space-age limo to get a haircut he doesn’t really need, all the while becoming dimly aware that there might be a revolution breaking out around him. While Cronenberg hasn’t spoken about his reason for choosing to adapt the novel now – especially as its often considered one of DeLillo’s worst books – the correlations to Occupy Wall Street and the economic crisis are blatant. But the film is definitely the most bizarre take on that debate you’ll see – yeah, including The Dark Knight Rises.

Cosmopolis can feel like an overly hemmed-in film – close to half of it takes place in Eric’s limo. Fortunately, that limo is a thing of beauty, all aglow with random technology, filled with enough space to let the young man fuck, piss, and have his prostate checked without ever stepping outside (not kidding here.) The importance of Eric’s car to his life speaks to Cronenberg’s old obsessions with the entangling of humans and technology (see: Videodrome, eXistenz, Crash), but don’t expect to see the actual horrific collision of man and machine here. The closest you’ll get to that is the look on Robert Pattison’s face when he gets too fingers shoved up his ass for his daily health inspection.

And – in the long run – props to Pattison. When the Twilight star replaced Colin Farrell as the film’s lead, fans feared the worst. Would we get another hour-and-a-half of painful non-emoting? For the most part, no. Pattison initially struggles with the film’s weird, stylized dialogue. But as things progress, he sinks surprisingly well into the role of the awkward spoiled rich kid having a semi-revelation (feel free to make your own cracks about why he plays it well.) By the time he’s falling to pieces in the film’s conclusion, ole’ Edward Cullen actually manages to work up something resembling genuine, complex human emotion. Leave it to Cronenberg.

The other performances are damn near perfect themselves – which is good, because Cosmopolis is a lot of scenes of two people talking. LOST alum Kevin Durand does his best Christopher Walken as Eric’s brutality-lovin’ bodyguard, and as Eric’s new wife Elise, Sarah Gadon perfects the odd, disaffected attitude the film is shooting for. Jay Burchel, Juliette Binoche, and Samantha Morton also turn in some solid acting, but it’s Paul Giamatti as Eric’s flipside –aging, broken down, impoverished Benno Levin, a man at a psychotic edge – that leaves the biggest impact. He seizes and boils with all the tension and anxiety the film is loaded with, putting a horrifying face on all the suffering that Eric has been so unaware of.

These performances help make Cosmopolis, but in the end, it’s the film’s inherent feelings of weirdness, paranoia, and isolation that really make it memorable. While Pattison’s take on Eric might make him a nut, things don’t get any saner on the other side of the glass. Cronenberg’s Manhattan is full prostitutes with disturbing knowledge of high-level economic affairs; teachers of high theory who make special visits to Eric just to ogle his fancy car; and celebrity revolutionaries whose biggest statements are smacking wealthy people with pies. Eric may be a villain, or just a bit of a buffoon, but Cronenberg argues that he’s at least partially a product of the same bizarro world that surrounds him. And while you know Cronenberg is always good for at least a gouged-out eye or two, this is where you’ll see the real oddity in Cosmopolis. It may not be for everyone, but it’s still another great, peculiar film from one deeply weird director.

Rating: 4.25/5 ★★★★¼ 

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About Josh_C

Josh has studied film at the Universities of Missouri and Florida, and he is currently studying horror film and popular culture in the Communication and Culture program at Indiana University. He has previously worked with the True/False Documentary Film Festival and the Ragtag Theatre in Columbia, Missouri, and he served as short-term production assistant on This Film Is Not Yet Rated. He is currently working on a dissertation on independent horror, horror film festivals, and horror fandom; feel free to contact him to discuss any of the above! He is also studying Dark Carnival Film Festival (www.darkcarnivalfilmfest.com).

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