Mark Reviews Movies

Cosmopolis

COSMOPOLIS

2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: David Cronenberg

Cast: Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, Sarah Gadon, Kevin Durand, Samantha Morton, Paul Giamatti, Mathieu Amalric, Jay Baruchel, Emily Hampshire, Gouchy Boy, Philip Nozuka

MPAA Rating: R (for some strong sexual content including graphic nudity, violence and language)

Running Time: 1:48

Release Date: 8/17/12 (limited); 8/24/12 (wider)


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Review by Mark Dujsik | August 23, 2012

Cosmopolis is filled to the brim—oftentimes overflowing—with ideas about that intangible concept known in many circles as Western society. We can forgive the movie's messiness, given that it amounts to a series of conversations between a self-destructive billionaire and his entourage (sycophantic underlings, straight-shooting advisors, and a wife through something akin to an arranged marriage) that mostly take place in the back of an impenetrable limo—armored to protect to its passenger and corked to ensure that he only hears what he wants of the outside world.

He has good reason for these measures. The world outside the limousine is burning. There are threats of and attempted assassinations of world leaders, including a credible threat against the President of the United States and the violent assault on the head of the International Monetary Fund on live television. Protestors have taken to the streets, causing wanton destruction and even setting themselves on fire.

Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) doesn't care about any of these things. The most emotion he shows for the turmoil occurring beyond the fancy, high-tech bubble of his car is to voice admiration for those who would go so far as to self-immolate for a cause (His associate, on the other hand, dismisses the act as unoriginal). Packer knows nothing of that kind of belief. He doesn't even think much of capitalism anymore (if he ever did, really); he has taken to quoting a phrase from the poem "Report from the Besieged City" by Zbigniew Herbert: "a rat became the unit of currency." The system is a means to an end—an ultimately meaningless game that assigns value to whatever it fancies at the moment. He's starting to realize that there's an end beyond the accumulation of wealth that no man can avoid.

Packer decides he needs a haircut this day, and his usual place is across town. Torval (Kevin Durand), his chief of security, insists that his boss find a shorter, safer route, given that the President is in town (Packer has to ask, "Which president?") and the aforementioned threat. "Do people still assassinate Presidents," Packer wonders; one would say the statement and the implication that he's a more important target is the height of egotism, if not for the fact that he's probably right.

Along the way, Packer goes about his daily routine as if nothing is out of the ordinary. "Routine" is correct; his actions are repetitive. They consist of only three things: food, sex, and business—all of them, in terms of the tacit importance assigned to them by the fact that they constitute his entire life, are essential. Packer says he gets a physical every day; we believe him because he can continue a discussion about markets while enduring an extended prostate exam without missing a beat. He even manages three meals with his wife Elise (Sarah Gadon), though it's all in an attempt to have sex with her again.

He has meetings of both the professional and personal variety, scheduled with such precision that his limo pulls up to meet people at just the right moment. Shiner (Jay Baruchel), a computer expert, assures Packer that his computer systems are secure. Chin (Philip Nozuka), a data whiz, starts crunching the numbers on Packer's latest investment in foreign currency.  Didi (Juliette Binoche) provides him his first sexual experience of the day (At least that we see) and talks about the universal ownership of a chapel full of art that Packer wants to buy—a concept that he rejects. Vija (Samantha Morton) allows him to be frank about game of the free market. She sees a connection between the anarchists on the streets and their work: Both are seeking to destroy things in order to create something else.

The material is intriguing to a degree, and writer/director David Cronenberg (adapting the novel by Don DeLillo) uses the limited range of spaces to the movie's advantage. The performances are robotic, which, in theory, makes sense. Pattinson is more than serviceable in this regard (A moment in which Packer has his first truly emotional reaction, over the death of a rapper, is awkward but more for the scene itself than the actor).

Then there's the matter of the screenplay, which places everything in a haze of mannered syntax and enigmatic phrasing. Some of the subtle details of the dialogue are effective, like how everyone refers to Packer and themselves in the first-person plural (For him, it's akin to the royal "we;" for others, it means denying their individuality to become part of Packer's enterprise), but the big-picture details are obscured by a jumble of words and lackadaisical line readings (Morton and Paul Giamatti, who plays a man with an unhealthy obsession with Packer, stand out from the pack with performances that put some real conviction behind the words).

It's refreshing to experience a movie that builds its tension and structure using the framework of ideas. It's equally frustrating that Cosmopolis creates an unnecessary puzzle out of them through language.

Copyright © 2012 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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