David Cronenberg loses himself in the florid soliloquies of Don DeLillo in “Cosmopolis,” the filmmaker’s creepy, cryptic and ever-so-chatty take on DeLillo’s novel of the Wall Street “1 percent.”
It’s the talkiest movie of Cronenberg’s career - a sermon, really. That tends to overwhelm Cronenberg’s cinematic instincts, his eye for the decadent, the gruesome and the kinky.
“Cosmopolis” is a gorgeous film of absurdly good-looking people spouting bromides, platitudes and underlined and capitalized “BIG thoughts.”
It’s fascinating, but anti-cinematic and a frustrating film to get your arms around.
Eric Packer, the philosopher-womanizer-currency trader played by Robert Pattinson, looks out the tinted windows of his posh limo at the protesters, anarchists and people who toss rats at the super-rich, and intones “They came from horror and despair.”
“They,” like he, know the words of writer Zbigniew Herbert, which DeLillo chose as the epigraph for the novel and which introduces the film. In a city under siege, “a rat became the unit of currency.”
The New York of “Cosmopolis” is teetering toward anarchy. Not that people like Packer experience it. His security detail protects him, from the steps of the New York Stock Exchange and all along the many stops he makes on his limo-driven way across town toward a haircut he is compelled to get.
His limo is his world. He tracks currencies, indulges in his paranoia - nagging his partner and tech guy (Jay Baruchel) about the security of the car and their offices. It’s important, Eric impassively pleads. Because “We have meaning in this world.”
Let others fret over the morality of gambling billions on whether the Chinese yuan will rise or fall in value. Eric is a cliche, the bored Master of the Universe, to borrow Tom Wolfe’s description of the type. Every “perceived threat” his bodyguard (Kevin Durand) warns him of only rocks his ennui. Eric wouldn’t mind encountering a little violence and might not even be bothered by losing a fortune on this one, long day. It breaks up the monotony.
“Talent is more erotic when it’s wasted,” he says.
And sex? It’s what he says he wants from his rich, poet wife. Elise (Sarah Gadon), like Eric, is emotionally barren and such a perfectly gorgeous specimen you’d swear she’s a cyborg. Like Eric.
“You know things,” she says of this near-stranger she just married. “I think this is what you do.”
So Eric hooks up with his art dealer (Juliette Binoche) in the back of his limo. He hires a new guard (Patricia McKenzie) and gets freaky with her. In between, he catches up with the wife at a restaurant, at the theater. He tries to convince her of what she doesn’t smell on his person.
Eric’s limo is his slow-moving castle, where he takes meetings, where his doctor comes to check his prostate - hilariously.
All the while, he hears of traffic backups, threats, riots, terrorist attacks and deaths from his staff, his acquaintances and his TV. The system is unraveling. The anarchists get it. They hijack billboards with their message that the “specter of capitalism” haunts society. Aides enter Eric’s limo (Samantha Morton is one) and warn that “all wealth has become wealth for its own sake.”
So many wonderful words, such wonderful sentences. It’s a pity Cronenberg can’t shape this fever-dream “Inferno” into something more entertaining between the speeches. It’s his weirdest film since “Crash” - not the Oscar-winning Paul Haggis tale, but Cronenberg’s riff on J.G. Ballard’s novel of twisted people who get their sexual jollies in car accidents.
“Twilight’s” Pattinson delivers a generally blank-faced performance, easily handling the complex dialogue but so underplaying everything as to be a cipher. There’s no heat to the performance.
That’s probably how he was directed to play Eric Packer. But Cronenberg’s gotten a bit carried away with the “banality of evil” here. He’s lost whatever was compelling about the book in getting to its arch, quotable speeches, its overdose of lovely words. And in the end, as fascinating as this all is, words aren’t enough.