Adapting Don DeLillo’s 2003 novel of the same name, Cosmopolis marked a return to screenwriting his own projects for the ‘body horror’ pioneer, David Cronenberg, in what’s a two hour-ish bleak, rich character piece following a brief period in the life of asset manager and currency speculator, Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson).
Released in the latter, more recent phase of the Canadian director’s filmography, specifically post-release of his early 2000s thriller, Spider, it’s rooted more in the worlds of sci-fi and drama – almost a million miles away from the horror background that rocketed his name and brand to initial success and regard. Yet, with little to no surprise at all – the film is truly outstanding, nigh on flawless.
Following the unfulfilled, morally bankrupt, billionaire asset manager, Eric, a man out solely for a haircut… well, once he’s on a break from excessive self-indulgence that is. Cosmopolis is a masterful example of how to make an engaging character-driven film. Plot-wise, that’s practically it: there are a few obstacles in the way, of course, our protagonist never does manage to get himself a fresh fade (spoiler… maybe?) thanks to some traffic pileups which are the proxy of mass protests in the streets but that’s it. There’s a subplot I won’t discuss given that really is a spoiler of some genuine significance, but the trip from A-B which manages to somehow make as many stops as possible, paints such a rich portrait of a truly detestable man and the grim, exploitative world in which he operates, a feat that’s testament to the writing and all the visual elements of the 2012 title, so, let’s shift onto those.
Still very much with his ‘pretty boy’ image intact at this point as Cronenberg’s drama-thriller hybrid was released prior to Breaking Dawn Part 2, the seal on the Twilight series, it’s the first steps towards reclaiming his on-screen star and identity that’s since seen many an arthouse feature added to his credits. For good reason, I might add. Where he was clunky (albeit in limited roles) via the Twilight and Harry Potter franchises, Pattinson is remarkably cold on this instance. Indulging himself in steamy affairs to spite his new wife and equally demonstrating no interest in, let alone care for his peers, the character of Eric is brilliantly performed but damn near impossible to engage with. It’s a point for later but shows the effectiveness of Pattinson’s dead behind the eyes turn and really speaks to his quality as an actor, something that has since rung true and been further demonstrated in the nine years post-release, an exceptionally strong anchor to the film.
Around the former vampire heartthrob, I don’t think there’s much emphasis on the supporting cast, a move that’s wholly intentional of course. Packing a few noteworthy names such as Jay Baruchel and Paul Giamatti, nobody amounts to anything beyond a cameo role. It links to a point from earlier regarding the alignment/disengagement with Pattinson’s character and is a move designed to put focus on the thematic value entwined throughout and deliberately work on a distance or void between us, the audience and the story itself.
That aforementioned value is split, two-fold. Between painting what is effectively the Mona Lisa of scum and villainy in the shape of the protagonist, Eric, and commenting in an isolated fashion, on the absurdities of death-stage capitalism. Eric’s plight is his own doing – a fact pointed out a number of times – his priorities are wrongly stacked and Eric’s obsession with the power and perks of his high-end lifestyle is the source of his ‘drift’, the high-stakes aren’t of interest anymore and the consequence of his rashness and brutality is the first time Eric’s felt a pulse – so to speak – for a prolonged time spell. And that’s the draw here, at least in my take on proceedings. It’s a chance to see a morally bankrupt, greed-fueled individual reap what they’ve sewn, as unpredictable, erratic currency markets cause the loss of Eric’s eye-watering personal wealth. Watching this off the back of a year spent wholly at home where I’ve effectively become a reclusive Karl Marx, Cosmopolis is preaching to the converted where I’m concerned, but even in broad strokes, it remains an incredible example of the ‘riches to rags’ narrative structure and feels incredible just in its unfolding.
As for its thematic aspects beyond the singular character at its core, the discussions and philosophy in Cronenberg’s film are endlessly intriguing. I’d make it explicitly known that the film has a very heavy reliance on dialogue, which might not be to everyone’s tastes, but it falls into place as a sort of voyeuristic hang-out style of film which has a slight novelty to it. Whether it’s the substance that’s layered slightly in the dialogue at the heart of the film or raised via iconography, which is a little more masked, they resonate well and effectively on account of the sheer competence of its cast and crew involved, it’s honestly a surprise it’s neither all that popular nor greatly regarded as it truly merits such acclaim.
And just finally, David Cronenberg’s direction is typically stellar. Cronenberg’s earlier film, A History of Violence rightfully has a place among some of my all-time favorite films and that focus on a single character, with incredible cinematography and just generally, tightly refined technical aspects are present here in the adaptation of Cosmopolis, all round a really engaging and almost jaw-droppingly crafted cyberpunk style critique of the dominant, macro-social system that’s currently in place.
A really reserved technological science-fiction drama, Cosmopolis is a fantastically crafted bit of film. An underrated, ‘hidden gem’ that comes with my highest praise and recommendations!