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Robert Pattinson and David Cronenberg Drive Through the Mind in “Cosmopolis”

June 11, 2012

By John C.

No matter what you think about director David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis, you have to admit that his mature collaboration with Twilight star Robert Pattinson won’t be for everyone.  If you pay attention to the engaging conversations that make up the film, you will likely find yourself admiring it as much as I did.  But if you don’t immerse yourself in this claustrophobic world and accept what is said as either truth or metaphor, then you will leave the theatre laughing it off as pointless pretension.

Young analyst Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) just wants a haircut when he gets in the back of his limo to be driven across New York to his regular barbershop.  Too bad that he picked the day when many of the streets are blocked off with the President in town and he is losing money by the second with the global economy on the downfall.  Riots take place in the streets just outside the windows of the limo, as conversations, sex and prostate exams are had inside the car.

The star of the film is Robert Pattinson, and he gives a calculated performance that works well in a film where so much of it is below the surface.  He is in every scene, but is supported by a cast that includes Canadian actors like Kevin Durand, Sarah Gadon, Jay Baruchel and a brief appearance from brilliant rapper K’Nann.  The performers all get a chance to shine, with many of them given a single extended scene where they are able to play off Robert Pattinson.  A sequence with Samantha Morton where they discuss the mortality of computers and the lengthy last act with Paul Giamatti are fascinating, working as studies of both filmmaking and acting.

Filmed in Toronto with many scenes taking place in the back of the limo, the look of Cosmopolis is one of the things I admire about it.  The blue lighting gives everything a cold and claustrophobic feel, with the back of the decked out car acting almost like a metaphor of the character’s mind.  As he slips deeper into insanity, the city fades into the night and his world becomes dark and atmospheric as the visuals become more jarring and surreal.  The fact that we are kept watching long scenes of dialogue that play out in largely uneventful situations is a testament to the power of David Cronenberg as a filmmaker who keeps things interesting.

This is a film made up of talking, with conversations about death and the economy that range from brilliant to ridiculously bizarre.  This is probably the only movie ever made where a character shoots himself in the hand before announcing “I have an asymmetrical prostate,” a line that is said randomly throughout the film and could become a mocking catchphrase.  But it’s all surprisingly engaging stuff that keeps us watching and listening, while searching for metaphor and meaning in the numerous conversations.  Although you might not actually hear people talking in this sort of dense and sometimes absurd prose, the dialogue is taken from Don DeLillo’s novel and is expertly performed by the cast.

Because of the long dialogue-driven scenes, Cosmopolis is ultimately a hard movie to pin down in writing and one that is destined to divide people across the board.  It is a film about searching for meaning in a world that is deemed as pointless and the many conversations that fill the running time won’t be for everyone.  The fact that it ends in a way that starts a conversation on the other side of the screen is just another reason why some audiences will be left questioning the point of the entire movie.  But those looking for an expertly acted and undeniably unique take on how the failing economy can push someone over the edge, will find a lot to admire and talk about as the credits roll.

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