CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: COSMPOLIS (2012)
By L.L. Soares
(THE SCENE: The interior of a stretch limousine. L.L. SOARES sits in back, dressed in a suit, when the door opens and MICHAEL ARRUDA looks in, dressed as a limo driver, with a shiny cap)
MA: Everything going okay back there?
LS: Of course. There’s a mini-bar. What else would I need?
MA: So what movie are you reviewing this time?
LS: The new David Cronenberg flick, COSMOPOLIS, starring Robert Pattinson from the TWILIGHT movies.
MA: Oh, that one’s only in limited release. It’s not playing anywhere near me.
LS: Sorry to hear that, but it is playing near me, so I saw it, and I’m going to review it.
MA (looks sad): You’re reviewing it alone?
LS: Looks like I don’t have a choice. Hey, why don’t you do me a favor? Why don’t you make yourself useful and go up front and drive this thing? I want to get a haircut.
MA: But you’re bald!
LS: Sshhhhh. Just do as your told, lackey! Here’s a dollar (hands him a crumpled dollar)
MA (frowns): Gee thanks.
(MA closes the limo door and goes up front to drive. The limo pulls away from the curb and begins its slow trek across midtown Manhattan during a traffic jam)
LS: So let’s take a look at the new David Cronenberg movie, COSMOPOLIS, shall we?
It’s based on a novel by Don DeLillo, and most of it takes place in a limousine driving through Manhattan, just like this one. It’s the story of Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson), a dot com billionaire who tells his driver he wants to go across town to get a haircut from the old guy who used to cut his hair as a child, and cut his father’s hair. But this is easier said than done. First off, the president is in the city, which means that traffic is moving at a snail’s pace. There’s also the funeral procession of a beloved rapper clogging the streets, and protestors blocking traffic in a scene that looks like the end of the world. Hell, at one point there’s even a water main break that floods some streets. So it takes the entire movie for Packer to make it from Point A to Point B.
The movie takes place during a single long day. During this day, Packer will lose millions of dollars in bad trading, break up with his wife (he’s only been married a few weeks) and try to avoid being killed by a disgruntled former employee.
The car is also moving so slow, that Packer can easily get out and do other things along the way. Like get into the cab his wife Elise (Sarah Gadon) is riding in and later meet her at a bookstore, and at a diner to have lunch. He also gets out to have sex with one of his security guards (Patricia McKenzie) in a hotel room.
(The limousine passes a guy holding a sign that reads “Michael Arruda is the smart one!” Suddenly a guy in a Motorhead T-shirt starts pounding on him. LS cannot hear the screams inside the limo)
But most of the people he interacts with come into the limo to see him. These include his associates Shiner (Jay Baruchel), who handles his computer security, and his business partner Michael (Philip Nozuka), who are both younger than him, in their early twenties (Eric is in his late 20s).
There are also several women who come into the limo at different times including Juliette Binoche as his lover and art dealer Didi (they have sex in the limo), his assistant
Jane (Emily Hampshire) who wonders why they’ve never had sex, and Samantha Morton as his “theory expert” Vija Kinsky, who rambles on and on about various theories she has about a multitude of things, some actually involving Eric’s business.
There’s also an odd scene where a big rapper named Kosmo Thomas (Gouchy Boy) enters the limo to tell Eric that Brother Fez has died. Eric loves Fez’s music “I play it all the time in one of my elevator,” and takes the news badly, with both men hugging each other at one point. By the way, Brother Fez is the guy who has the huge funeral procession, and in another surreal scene, we see his open coffin revealing his corpse to the world on the back of a truck as his mourners follow.
There are also strange protestors who wave dead rats around in public places while shouting “There’s a specter haunting the world. The specter of capitalism,” who would fit right in with the Occupy New York movement. They even carry a gigantic stuffed rat across the street in one scene, and attack Packer’s limo – spray painting it and trying to smash it apart – while Eric sits safely inside.
(The limousine passes Mickey Mouse, holding a sign that says “I am not a Rat!”)
Throughout everything, lead security guy Torval (Kevin Durand) walks alongside the limo, a microphone always in his ear, giving him information. He constantly tries to discourage Packer from this cross-city trek, but his warnings fall onto deaf ears, even when Torval explains that there is someone out to kill him, and that it is a very credible threat.
In another odd scene, Packer has a doctor enter the limo—he has a doctor give him a complete physical every day because he is terrified of dying young. On this particular day, his regular doctor takes the day off and sends an associate, who is roughed up by Torval before his story checks out and he can enter the limo. The doctor even checks his prostate (for what seems like a long time) while Packer has a conversation with Jane.
As you can see, the movie is just a series of strange vignettes, featuring interactions between Packer and the people of his daily world.
(The limo passes a legless Porky Pig on crutches with a sign that says “Don’t Eat Pork.”)
The dialogue, for the most part, is taken right from DeLillo’s novel, but while it might work well in prose, it doesn’t always seem very natural coming out of actors’ mouths. In fact, it sounds rather stagey at times, as if we’re watching a play, when it’s not sounding downright stilted. Most of the characters talk in a weird, unnatural way, including Packer, and it adds a real dream-like quality to the proceedings, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. At first, I found this unnatural dialogue to be annoying, but after awhile, it established a kind of rhythm that made it more palatable, and I even started to enjoy it as it went on.
The relationship between Eric and his wife is uncomfortable most of the time. She comes from a wealthy family, and while they have been married only a brief time, it already looks as if the marriage is unraveling. Whenever Packer suggests they have sex, she rebuffs him. It was her he originally was going to have sex with in that hotel room, where he instead screws the woman working for Torval as one of his security people.
Some characters are more annoying than others, though. Most of them grew on me as their scenes developed, but Samantha Morton’s character, Vija, spoke in such a meaningless, pretentious way that I almost wanted to strangle her. She was easily the most affected and irritating character in the movie.
There are also recurring questions. Everyone asks everyone else how old they are at various times. Considering how young many of the rich characters are, this seems to be a point of curiosity. Also, when the doctor tells Packer his “prostate is asymmetrical,” he takes it to heart and repeats it several times to various people, wondering exactly what it means.
(The limo passes a hideous-looking Jeff Goldblum, holding a sign that reads, “Flies Are People Too.”)
The movie goes on like this for awhile, yet it’s never boring and it kept me fascinated throughout, as if I were watching aliens interact on another planet, until a scene toward the end where Pattinson has a long conversation with Paul Giamatti as a character named Benno. Normally I think Giamatti is an amazing actor, but his long scene here goes on much too long, and brings the entire movie to a screeching halt in the process. By this point, I started to get bored, as the rhythm and pacing of the rest of the movie was ruined.
Pattinson, in the lead, is still an enigma to me. Considering the odd way everyone delivers their dialogue – including Packer – it’s hard to judge their acting here. I still am not sure how good an actor Pattinson is. I certainly can’t tell from his role as Edward in the TWILIGHT movies, and I can’t really tell here, either. But there must be something about him that makes him so fascinating to so many people. And he and Cronenberg became good friends during the filming of COSMOPOLIS and it’s already been announced that Pattinson will star in Cronenberg’s next film.
(The limo passes two guys fighting. One has a shirt that says “Team Edward” and the other has “Team Jacob” spray-painted on his bare chest)
As for Cronenberg, this is a filmmaker who was once one of my Top 5 favorite directors. He’s made several movies I would include in a list of all-time favorites, and yet his recent output has been disappointing. He seems to want to be taken seriously as of late, and has abandoned the genre trappings of his earlier films. It began, ironically enough, with his films A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE (2005) and EASTERN PROMISES (2007), which I actually enjoyed a lot, even if they were a bit too mainstream for my tastes (when I go see a Cronenberg movie, I expect something different). But his last film, A DANGEROUS METHOD, which dealt with Sigmund Freud and Karl Jung, just seemed boring to me. Cronenberg movies used to be exceedingly WEIRD, similar to the way David Lynch films are weird, and Cronenberg seems like he’s trying to eliminate that part of his style. There was a time where unexpected things happened in his movies. They were unpredictable. Now, they’re much more conventional.
And despite the fact that the use of dialogue is so strange in COSMOPOLIS, there is only one real moment that I felt was unexpected and shocking. It involves Torval and it comes completely out of nowhere. But otherwise, the Cronenberg of old is hard to find.
COSMOPOLIS is a hard film to rate. I don’t know if a lot of people would find it entertaining. I’m sure TWILIGHT fans who went to see this because Pattinson is in it were scratching their heads. But I have to admit that, as it went along, I liked it a lot. Until the dreadful scene with Giamatti that just stops the movie cold.
I give it three knives. Because I enjoyed most of it. Because I was able to groove to its rhythm for most of the movie’s running time. But I would have given it a much better rating if not for that scene where poor Giamatti is misused.
MA (from the front): Are you done yet? We’re almost out of gas!
LS: Yep, I’m done. How about we get something to eat.
(The limousine runs out of gas, and LS and MA abandon it in the middle of the street.)
© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares
LL Soares gives COSMOPOLIS ~three knives.