Cosmopolis (2012) Review (R)

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In the words of the film’s director, David Cronenberg, “Cosmopolis is a film about a man going to get a haircut (paraphrasing)”. Does that sound interesting to you? What if it mostly takes place in the back of a limo? What if the lead character acts really bored with EVERYTHING the entire movie? Is that beginning to move you? No? Well, what if it was that vampire dude from Twilight?… Okay, some thirteen year old girls and  middle aged housewives are perking up a little. Maybe I should just write about this one and hopefully change your mind. I hate to see anyone suffer, even if it is fans of those Twilight movies.

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Robert Pattinson plays Eric Packer, an aloof billionaire, who has made an incredibly important decision, to be driven across town in his white stretch limousine, to get a haircut. It’s a ‘journey’ flick. Along the course of his travels he meets an assortment of uninteresting characters including his wife, his mistress, an ex-employee, Cronenberg’s version of the Occupy movement and a pie wielding performance artist. I actually laughed once when the pie artist turns up, but only once. I could go on, but really that’s it. It’s another movie about a rich white guy that has a quiet contempt for the world that he’s not even aware of existing. And it’s not quite as exciting as watching a cat cough up a hairball. Did I just tip my hand?

Juliette Binoche couldn't make this movie any better.

Juliette Binoche couldn’t make this movie any better.

It was somewhat amusing to me that Robert Pattinson agreed to the lead role in Cronenberg’s latest project Cosmopolis. I pictured the hordes of Twilight devotees, excited about anything Pattinson, rushing to buy their ticket and then finding out what a Cronenberg film is. What might that be, you ask? Well, first I’d have to say the word ‘sterile’ comes to mind. Without exception, his films possess a cold clinical tone to them. Stanley Kubrick was more likely to give you a ‘fun romp’ than Cronenberg ever will. With rare exception, Cronenberg tends to squeeze away the passion of any character he points his camera at, despite generally featuring sexuality as a prominent and reoccurring theme in practically all of his films. Sex in a Cronenberg film focuses on fetish, obseesion and the lack of passion. It has a necessary, yet perfunctory role as far as the director is concerned, it would seem. That is certainly the case in Cosmopolis, where the lead character’s asymmetrical prostate is a topic of concern throughout… Or it seemed to be since my own attention was often elsewhere as the movie rolled on.

This blonde chick couldn't make the movie any better.

This blonde chick couldn’t make the movie any better.

Cronenberg is also a director who seems hellbent on proving to you, the viewer, that he is an intellectual. He loves to posit ideas for you to chew on, but visually he presents these ideas in unimaginative ways. I have always thought that Cronenberg isn’t concerned with the framing of a shot as much as he just wants to hear his detached, listless apathetic characters talk in low steady statements of how the director sees the world. You’re hearing what Cronenberg sees and from what I saw, Cosmopolis wasn’t very interesting. I’ll even go so far as to say that this was a half hearted attempt by Cronenberg. Critics often cite actors ‘mailing in’ their performances, only interested in a paycheck. I think the director is guilty of that here. When I was paying attention (and that was sporadic), I kept noting how many of the scenes had very little use of  multiple camera angles. It felt like this was made more for television (where they usually don’t have the time for luxuries like multiple takes and elaborate lighting techniques), than for the big screen.

The biggest failure of Cosmopolis is as I have alluded to; it’s just boringly pretentious. That word ‘pretentious’ is thrown around a lot, but it certainly is applicable here. Not since ‘Existenz’ has Cronenberg reached these depths of  snottily cynical vapidness. It treads the same ground as Mary Harron’s ‘American Psycho’ as it satirizes a certain type of Wall Street stereotype, but it lacks the fire of that one (largely because of Christian Bale’s manic performance). And where Bale portrayed an empty suit figuratively, Pattinson’s Eric Packer is devoid of any outward displays of emotion to the point of apathetic detachment. Packer spends most of the film sprawled in the back of a stretch limo, which doesn’t make for the most interesting story, at least how Cronenberg decided to film it.  I don’t blame Pattinson, this is squarely on Cronenberg’s (f)rigid shoulders. This film even has me asking the question that as good as some of Croneberg’s films have been in the past (The Dead Zone, The Fly, Eastern Promises), could they have been better without his soul sucking default style? I hate saying that because I do like a lot of his movies, but Cosmopolis was so staggeringly uninteresting to me that it has me questioning his entire filmography now.

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Not even Paul Giamatti could make this movie better.

This is one of those films where every character is part of the same conversation; a conversation which essentially runs the length of the film. It’s hard to care for what a director is trying to say through their art when there isn’t even a pretense that there is anything at stake for any of the players in the story. Even with satire, there has to be an element of drama (or comedy) to have it work properly (see Robocop, A Clockwork Orange, Time Bandits or Brazil for good examples). You still have to care for the characters before you can care about the points that a film is trying to make whether you agree with them or not. There just isn’t anyone or anything to care about in Cosmopolis… But it did give me another candidate for my ‘Bottom 10‘ of 2012.

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