Rating – ***
Starring – Robert Pattinson
The trailer of Cosmopolis suggests quite a fast-paced thriller, but as with most trailers this is a gross misrepresentation of the film. This encounter with the unexpected is possibly why it has received such mixed reviews. In fact, Cosmopolis builds slowly and is intellectually dense, dealing with a great many different concepts. It is not simply a critique of capitalism, but also an existentialist exploration of the motivations of humans; why we create, why we destroy, what we seek from relationships, the way we do things simply “because we can”, and the self-destructive tendency referred to in Freudian psychoanalysis as the “death instinct.”
It is is therefore inevitable that Cosmopolis relies heavily upon dialogue to explore most of these issues. Most conversations take place in the claustrophobic confines of a sound-proofed limousine that disconcertingly throws the voices of the characters to complete prominence. There is no background noise and only sparse music to distract from what they are saying. Essentially, 28 year old multi-billionaire, Eric Packer (Pattinson), travels across New York in order to get a haircut amidst the traffic chaos caused by a presidential visit and the funeral of one of his favourite musicians. We’ve all seen the iconic images of traffic jams in New York, so it is unsurprising that along this journey he has time to meet many people from his personal and business life, either in his limousine or roadside cafés and hotels. The pacing of the film is therefore slow, however this is necessary in order to explore the deep issues which the film presents; any faster and it would feel rushed. The tension of the film also mounts in the final 20 to 30 minutes, when Packer confronts Benno Levin (Giamatti), who is trying to kill him.
A pleasant surprise is Pattinson’s portrayal of Packer. He exudes superficiality and arrogance lying on the surface but allows a darker core of misanthropy and self-loathing to peek through. His self-destructive streak becomes more obvious as the film progresses, and although he behaves purely selfishly, having casual sex in between seeing his wife (Gadon) and engaging in violence, it is hard not to feel some sympathy for him. He is one of the richest people on the planet, but is plagued by fears surrounding his own mortality, which is a wonderfully irrational contradiction to his self-destructive tendencies. His doctor examines him in the limo and tells him that his prostate is asymmetrical. Consequently, the fears of aging and being older than everyone else in the room begin to play on his mind. Pattinson credibly portrays Packer’s descent from the high to the low, and manages to hold his own against more experienced actors such as Juliette Binoche and Kevin Durand. Though the beginning and destination are not exactly new, the journey is well-executed.
This does not mean, however, that the film is without its flaws. Despite very strong performances from all of the cast members, the script seems somewhat baggy. Having never read the 2003 novel by Don DeLillo upon which the film is based it is hard to say how much dialogue Cronenberg lifted directly from it, but some of it does feel shoe-horned in. The film suffers in that by probing the emptiness at the heart of the super-rich it tries to take on too many aspects of this emptiness. Adding to the confusion that this creates is some occasionally cryptic and surreal dialogue, almost reminiscent of something out of Samuel Beckett. Whilst this may be no bad thing, it does render some areas of the film hard to follow. This means, however, that the film has some rewatchability in in order to pick up on all of the nuances in the dialogue.
Don’t let that put you off going to see it, however. Cosmopolis is ultimately a fascinating exploration of the psyche of an individual who on the surface appears to have everything but is in fact deeply troubled, through the device of an Odyssey across New York.