A tale told without sound or fury, nor signifying much of anything, Cosmopolis is a surprisingly inert film from writer-director David Cronenberg. It’s at least a step up from his previous project, last year’s A Dangerous Method, possibly the unsexiest and least-kinky movie about sexual deviance ever made). Whereas that movie was content to sleepwalk through its runtime, Cosmopolis at least tries to push a few buttons along the way, it just doesn’t do so very well.
Robert Pattinson, the pasty-faced wide-eyed vampire heart throb of the Twilight franchise, makes for what could have been an inspired choice of leading man if he weren’t defeated by the material; he’s not bad in the role, just way out of his depth with Cronenberg’s staid, unaffected dialogue and detached, apathetic direction.
The setting of the story (adapted from the novel by Don DeLillo) is a near-future New York City, where a tiny percentage of the world is affluent and the rest are poor and pissed off. Pattinson stars as Eric Packer, a 28-year-old billionaire who made his fortune by manipulating the markets, a hollow man who, despite his material success, has accomplished little and contributed even less to the world around him.
Events play out over the course of a single day, as Packer’s high-tech limo inches along towards his haircut appointment through traffic reduced to a crawl by a visit from the POTUS, a funereal procession for a dead rap star, and increasingly violent street demonstrations. Hanging over Packer like a black cloud is the distinct possibility that someone is out to first ruin and then kill him. As his limo creeps endlessly along, the situation begins to resemble a Wall Street-ified Apocalypse Now, but with Colonel Kurtz kindly boarding the boat in order to save his assassin the trip.
Cronenberg and DeLillo are both cult icons in their respective spheres — and deservedly so — but the disheartening reality is that their creative styles mix like oil and water, and it doesn’t help that Cosmopolis is arguably the least filmable of the author’s novels. Here, it’s reduced to a series of episodes: the mega-rich Packer meets with corporate underlings, consults an art dealer/lover (Juliet Binoche) through whom he wants to purchase a Rothko Chapel and his Chief of Financial Theory (Samantha Morton), beds one of his bodyguards (Patricia McKenzie), begs his new wife (Sarah Gadon) for sex, receives a prostate exam, et cetera, in and occasionally out of the car. They talk at each other rather than to one another; sometimes it’s intriguing, often it’s impenetrable, but mostly it fails to add up to a cohesive whole. Matthieu Amalric briefly perks things up as a pie-throwing activist, but by the time Paul Giamatti shows up in the final real as a disgruntled and thoroughly insane ex-employee it is too little, too late.