Directed by: David Cronenberg
Written by: David Cronenberg (screenplay), Don DeLillo (novel)
Starring: Robert Pattinson, Sarah Gadon, Samantha Morton, Juliette Binoche, Mathieu Amalric, Kevin Durand, Jay Baruchel, Philip Nozuka, and Paul Giamatti
Writer-Director David Cronenberg returns to cinemas with the intensely relevant cinematic adaptation of Don DeLillo’s novel COSMOPOLIS. Even though DeLillo’s novel was written almost ten years ago, it proves to be strikingly timely. Still, audiences may lose the message in all of the verbose (and sometimes expository) dialogue. While it didn’t entirely live up to my dream of being the “seven kinds of bat-shit crazy” Cronenberg is known for (a tall order, I know), it’s engrossing, entertaining and disturbing to watch one man’s descent into the dreamlike abyss of madness.
Eric Parker is a 28-year-old asset manager whose wish is quite simple: He wants to get a haircut. To do so, he must face insurmountable obstacles as he crosses Manhattan in his limo – such as the President’s motorcade, a rap star’s funeral, and a raucous anarchist demonstration. Since he’s been named a target by a crazed former employee of his company, his head of security (Kevin Durand) advises against such travel. Not only are there the physical challenges, but Eric faces trouble at work when one of his financial predictions tanks spectacularly, and also at home when his frigid, rich wife Elise (A DANGEROUS METHOD’s Sarah Gadon) suspects him of fooling around. Since he’s not getting any at home, he actually is cheating with his art dealer mistress Didi (Juliette Binoche) who is 13 years his senior. His co-workers (Jay Baruchel, Samantha Morton, and Philip Nozuka) also pop in and out of the limo. He even gets a prostate exam in the car! So will our anti-hero make it to his barber? Or is this trip just tempting fate/a death wish?
The archetypal ivory tower of the elite is portrayed here as the futuristic white limo. As the upper class coolly discuss the philosophy of the societal breakdown at hand, the world surrounding the limo is in complete disarray. Radical (in this case, rat-icals?!) protesters totally trash the outer shell of the limo while Morton & Pattinson remain unbothered and unmoved. It’s a layered and darkly humorous scene that leaves viewers feeling a bit cold. The same can be said for the film as a whole. Comments on the human condition, our current economic crisis, and the impact it has on both the super rich and the working man reverberate throughout the picture. What’s left of a man when he loses all that he holds dear? What’s to become of society when financial chaos strikes? Will anarchy reign? And most importantly, will Pattinson ever make it to the barber shop? However, these points are talked to death, and bog down the picture. Viewers certainly won’t be bored – it’s just that the topics discussed might be too heady for an audience filled with TWILIGHTERS and people seeking less of a heavy watch.
Pattinson seems to have taken a heavy chunk of inspiration for his character from Christian Bale’s Patrick Bateman in AMERICAN PSYCHO. Also concerned with peak physical perfection, Eric shares his mercurial temperament and trigger. Whenever anyone brings up his age he becomes hardened and defensive. The naïveté of youth fades, revealing he is not in fact a God, but mere mortal. Pattinson shines when he embraces his character’s descent into darkness. Uneven at times, it’s a nuanced performance that will make you want to see more of this in the future. Peter Suschitzky’s cinematography is crisp, polished, and effused with a warmth Pattison’s character sorely lacks. It’s that juxtaposition that makes Cronenberg’s framing all the more addicting to watch.
There’s something to be said for the script’s soapbox speeches and pontifications. Cronenberg gives audiences a cerebral, darkly comic take on economic woes and their impact on society. This isn’t for everyone, but then again, what Cronenberg film is?
COSMOPOLIS opens in limited release on August 17.