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Cosmopolis
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Crash"
5 stars

From the body horror insanities of "Shivers," "Scanners" and "Videodrome" to edgy literary adaptations like "Naked Lunch," "Crash" and "A History of Violence" to the kinky historical drama of his most recent work, "A Dangerous Method," David Cronenberg has spent his entire career making films that some praise as thought-provoking masterpieces, others deride as pretentious and occasionally disgusting bores and leave everyone else wondering "What the hell was that?" And yet, even by those standards, his latest effort, "Cosmopolis," is likely to go down as one of most divisive entries in a filmography chock-full of such things. Based on the oddly prescient 2002 novel of the same name by Don DeLillo, this is a film that stands as a brilliant adaptation of a novel that most might have deemed to be unfilmable, an incisive and darkly funny evocation of the current socio-political climate and as a fascinating new exploration of some of the key themes that Cronenberg has been dealing with throughout his entire career.

Robert Pattinson stars as Eric Packer, a Wall Street asset manager who has parlayed his gift for reading and understanding the markets into such perks as a billion-dollar fortune, a recent marriage to an equally beautiful billionaire (Sarah Gadon) and a ridiculously elongated and tricked-out white stretch limousine whose cork lining, tinted windows and computers constantly spitting out up-to-the-minute almost, but not quite, allow him to completely isolate himself from the world around him even when he is in the thick of it. However, the trouble with achieving such mammoth success so quickly and so early in life is that there is nowhere to go but down and indeed, Eric's reckless betting against the yuan in the financial markets has started to turn against him and as the story opens, his empire is in imminent danger of total and irrevocable collapse. His response to this is strangely subdued--instead of frantically battling to save his empire, he decides that this would be the perfect time to get a haircut at a place located on the other side of the city. Even ignoring his ongoing professional calamity, this seems like an insane idea--the combination of a presidential motorcade, the funeral procession of a recently deceased pop star and an Occupy-like protest featuring demonstrators flinging fake rats have brought traffic to a virtual standstill and chief of security Torval (Kevin Durand) warns of increasingly credible threats to his client's life (especially after a shocking attack on the head of the IMF)--but Eric will not be denied and so he slips into his limo to make the crosstown journey.

With traffic at a virtual standstill for the most part, Eric manages to conduct a number of meetings and assignations along the way, many from within the confines of his limo. He has cryptic business chats with his chief technological advisor (Jay Baruchel and currency analyst (Phillip ) in which they offer dire warnings that he brushes aside. He has frequent meetings with his wife in which his short marriage pretty much crumbles away. He has sex with both an old girlfriend (Juliette Binoche), a art dealer who tries to sell him a recently acquired Rothko, and one of his bodyguards. He meets with his chief of business theory (Samantha Morton) and she finally admits that nothing that she is doing makes sense any more. At one point, he even multitasks by meeting with his financial chief (Emily Hampshire) while simultaneously getting a prostate examination. As the day goes on and turns to night, things get progressively stranger for Eric--he even finds himself the victim of a pie in the face a la Rupert Murdoch--and he more than responds in kind with a series of moves that find himself putting himself right into the crosshairs of the mysterious man (Paul Giamatti) who has been trying to kill him.

In many of Cronenberg's previous literary adaptations, he has often changed much of the source material around in order to make things more personal and reflective of his concerns as a filmmaker. What is surprising about "Cosmopolis" is that for the most part, Cronenberg (taking his first solo screenplay credit since 1999's "eXistenZ") has translated DeLillo's novel in a surprisingly straightforward manner. Like the book, the film is largely a series of self-contained scenes that are almost entirely driven by dialogue that runs the gamut from financial jargon to metaphysical musings and occasionally punctuated by brief explosions of sex, violence or outright weirdness, all of which are told in a spare and deliberately alienating manner. Outside of the dropping of a couple of a couple vignettes and a slightly more ambiguous ending, Cronenberg has not only brought DeLillo's story to the screen in a relatively intact manner but has also pulled off the far more difficult trick of retaining his authorial voice as well. There is also a timeliness to the material, even though it was written a decade ago, that gives the material a certain kick--from the views we get of the anti-capitalist protests filling the streets to the aforementioned pie in the face to the sight of a rich young punk losing his fortune that may remind someone of Mark Zuckerberg's current travails, there are moments that so uncannily mirror current events that there are times in which it almost feels as though we are watching a documentary.

And yet, even as it pays honor to both the source novel and the subsequent current events that have come to further inform it, "Cosmopolis" is also a David Cronenberg film through and through that feels as distinct and personal as anything that he has done before, be it self-generated or taken from another source. If there is one thread that links nearly all of Cronenberg's otherwise varied filmography, it is that they are about transitions--be they physical, mental, emotional, historical, sexual or technological--and how their characters either grow from or, more often, succumb to them. From the unexpected ways in which Eric reacts to the potential loss of his empire (suffice it to say, this is not one of those films where a rich guys loses his material possessions but regains his soul in the process) to its depiction of a world in which financial wizards look on in shock as the patterns that they have based their livelihoods upon suddenly go wildly askew, the films hits upon all of those variations and a few unexpected ones to boot. From a cinematic standpoint, it is also a piece with his other work--thanks to the contributions of such longtime collaborators as cinematographer Peter Suschitzky and composer Howard Shore, he presents a world that looks familiar enough on the surface, at least what we are privileged to see through the tinted windows or the limo as it cuts through the streets, but which nevertheless contains a strange undercurrent that gives an edge to everything.

One of the biggest keys to the success of "Cosmopolis," as surprising as it may sound to some of you, is the performance by Robert Pattinson as Eric. When it was announced that Cronenberg had hired the guy best known for playing the world's blandest vampire in the "Twilight" series, reactions ranged from outright scoffing to people questioning the director's sanity. However, if there is one thing that Cronenberg does undeniably well, it is finding the perfect actors for his films and bringing great performances out of them--over the years, he has gotten career-best acting out of talents as diverse as James Woods ("Videodrome"), Jeff Goldblum ("The Fly"), Jeremy Irons ("Dead Ringers"), Ralph Fiennes ("Spider"), Viggo Mortensen ("A History of Violence") and Keira Knightley ("A Dangerous Method"). Based on this, I went into the film assuming that if Cronenberg was going to take such a chance by casting Pattinson in the role, he must have seen something in his work to suggest that the teen idol was right for the part. Whatever it was, that instinct was correct because he nails every aspect of his performance perfectly and creates a character of pure, unadulterated arrogance who is always captivating to watch, even at his most callow, while still allowing some flickers of sympathetic behavior to occasionally bubble up from beneath his immaculately constructed surface. If you still harbor doubts about his work, consider the fact that most of the film consists of him performing one-on-one scenes with actors as accomplished as Juliette Binoche, Samantha Morton and Paul Giamatti and he more than holds own against them all. I don't know what kind of career Pattinson might have now that the "Twilight" films are over and done but based on his work here, he certainly has the chops to have a potentially strong career beyond all the glittery vampire nonsense.

"Cosmopolis" is liable to have even some of Cronenberg's most devoted fans scratching their heads at certain point and anyone lured into seeing it based solely on the presence of Robert Pattinson is likely to walk away from it feeling confused and upset at the sight of their favorite film personality in the midst of such a bizarre film. However, those able to wrap their heads around it will be rewarded with one of the most unique and challenging movies of the year and yet another standout effort from one of the best, if often underrated, filmmakers of our time. Why it is being tossed off in a late summer throwaway slot instead of coming out in the fall, where it might find a more hospitable climate, is certainly a bit odd but don't let that put you off from seeing it. Unlike most of the ones discussed in the film, "Cosmopolis" is an investment that pays off enormous dividends

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=23749&reviewer=389
originally posted: 08/24/12 01:14:20
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Festival de Cannes For more in the 2012 Festival de Cannes series, click here.

User Comments

2/15/13 dolores weeks outstanding,provacative,creative, thoughtful 5 stars
8/31/12 IM1LuckyWoman A bit easier to grasp after reading the book, but performances that capture you, regardless 5 stars
8/31/12 The Old One This movie has many many layers and will keep you thinking days after you've seen it. 5 stars
8/29/12 Al R Not worth 10 cents 1 stars
8/25/12 L Black Fantastic performance by Robert Pattinson, thought provoking, intelligent movie making 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  17-Aug-2012 (R)
  DVD: 01-Jan-2013

UK
  N/A

Australia
  17-Aug-2012
  DVD: 01-Jan-2013




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