Intellectual stimulation for Twi-hards

We’re on Team Cronenberg

It’s somehow heartening to think that a good many Twilight fans will feel sufficiently devoted to Robert Pattinson that they’ll submit themselves to a movie as dense dark and unabashedly difficult as Cosmopolis . David Cronenberg’s adaptation of Don DeLillo’s 2003 novel stars the young actor otherwise known as vampire heartthrob Edward Cullen as Eric Packer a dashing corporate titan experiencing a personal free-fall over the course of a 24-hour limo ride in New York. If the film inspires even one of those Twi-hards to investigate other corners of the American author’s formidable oeuvre then surely it’s done some good in the world. Likewise it may also give those impressionable viewers a hunkering for the Canadian director’s earlier cinematic provocations many of which it must be said are more successful than Cosmopolis at reconciling their artistic ambitions and unseemly urges with more commercial-minded imperatives.

In other words the combination of actor director and source material does not yield the Molotov cocktail that many viewers may have anticipated especially those who saw the early trailers that seemed to promise Cronenberg’s return to full-bore freakiness after the relatively restrained likes of A History of Violence and his recent Jung-meets-Freud chamber drama A Dangerous Method . Instead Cosmopolis is talky chilly and generally devoid of any visceral charge even in its most violent and sexually explicit moments. That makes for a tough slog at times the movie essentially being a series of two-hander scenes filled with the sort of punchy stylized David Mamet-like dialogue which DeLillo has long favoured. But the force and vitality of Pattinson and the cast goes a long way toward ensuring that Cosmopolis never entirely succumbs to its own inertia.

The actor is convincing as Eric the young CEO who spends the majority of the movie’s running time within the confines of his tricked-out white limousine as it crawls through the increasingly chaotic streets of New York (or rather Toronto where the movie was shot last summer). Though Eric is determined to fulfil his stated mission for the day — getting a haircut at a barber shop across town — he still finds time for encounters with folks such as his company’s tech security specialist (Jay Baruchel) its “chief of theory” (Samantha Morton) his art dealer and sometime mistress (Juliette Binoche) and a pie-wielding mad Frenchman (Mathieu Amalric). Though you’d think this diffident young man might seem a little more human during his times with his young and beautiful wife Elise (Sarah Gadon) these scenes only emphasize his inability to connect with the world. Even making idle dinner conversation has become an impossible task for Eric. “We’re like people talking” he says to Elise in a deserted restaurant. “Isn’t this how they talk?”

Other conversations are dominated by cryptic aphorisms about money power and how the future is “overwhelming the present.” Meanwhile dangerous developments in the international currency markets and signs of widespread civil unrest cause tensions to rise both inside and outside of Eric’s roving gilded cage.

By then it’s clear that Eric is another incarnation of Cronenberg’s favourite kind of protagonist: a man who’s plenty alienated as his story begins but whose identity begins to fissure as his reality dissolves around him (see also: Ralph Fiennes’ title character in Spider Bill in Naked Lunch Max in Videodrome ). Unfortunately Eric’s crisis is so rarefied and remote and his universe so artificial and abstract that it’s hard to care where he ends up. Not even Paul Giamatti’s ferocious performance as a casualty of Eric’s brand of rampaging capitalism in the film’s final exchange can prevent Cosmopolis from seeming like a frustratingly arid intellectual exercise.

Then again since intellectual exercises of any kind are a rare thing at the multiplex viewers could do a lot worse than joining the Twi-hards on this ride.