Monday, 18 June 2012
(David Cronenberg, 2012) It is odd to see such a strong directorial personality as that of David Cronenberg overwhelmed by the authorial voice of the material he is adapting, but that is what happens with Cosmopolis. Cronenberg obviously selected the material in part because it resonated with him, and the film does occasionally recall elements from his other work - the association of sex with gleaming technology suggestive of Crash, for instance, the psycho-analytical exchanges recalling A Dangerous Method. But largely it just feels like the work of author Don Delillo. That means it is a series of absolutely dazzling, erudite, funny and provocative verbal riffs, some in the form of dialogue, most actually soliliquays spoken at another character. These riffs mostly occur in the back of Billionaire Packer's (Robert Pattinson) custom stretch limo as he is driven across Manhattan in search of a haircut. That structure makes it necessarily episodic, but doesn't explain why it is somewhat tedious and often silly. Packer is visited by his associates over the course of his day. He discusses financial markets and cyber-security with his underlings, deflects his bodyguard, lets his head of theory (Samantha Morton) philosophise at him, fences with the Poet wife he barely knows, screws his Art Dealer (Juliette Binoche) and one of his security team, mourns the death of a rap star, has a full medical, including a rectal exam, while flirting with an employee, and finally faces the ex-employee who wants him dead (Paul Giamatti). Pattinson is excellent throughout, his billionaire a mess of confused impulses, paranoia and empty yearning who often seems like a child, and other times is as inscrutable and wise as a Buddha. The others get to appear for a single scene, deliver one of Delillo's impossibly clever cultural or social critiques, then shuffle offscreen again. Some of these vignettes are better than others, but they always feel trapped within a funny, hermetically-sealed world; Delillo's dialogue is brilliant, but all these articulate, informed characters speaking in fascinating theories and observations makes them sound samey, and none of them ever really speak like real people. The material sporadically feels horrendously dated - the protests in the streets should feel topical but instead they suggest the pre-9/11 era of the novel - and for all that Cronenberg stages and shoots much of it quite beautifully, it feels thoroughly like a theatrical piece which has been opened out. For all the acting talent here, the characters are mysterious rather than involving, and Packer's odyssey cannot sustain an entire movie, especially once it becomes truly surreal and extreme in the later stages.