Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #565
Number of Views: One
Release Date: 25 May 2012 (Cannes)
Sub-Genre: Character Study
Country of Origin: Canada, France, Italy, Portugal
Box Office: $6,063,556
Running Time: 109 minutes
Director: David Cronenberg
Producers: David Cronenberg, Paulo Branco, Renee Tab, Martin Katz
Screenplay: David Cronenberg
Based on a novel by Don DeLillo
Special Effects: Chris Bridges
Cinematography: Peter Suschitzky
Score: Howard Shore, Metric
Editing: Ronald Sanders
Studios: Canal+, France 2 Cinéma, Téléfilm Canada, Alfama Films, Toronto Antenna, Prospero Pictures
Distributor: eOne Films
Stars: Robert Pattinson, Paul Giamatti, Samantha Morton, Sarah Gadon, Mathieu Amalric, Juliette Binoche, Jay Baruchel, Kevin Durand, Abdul Ayoola, Emily Hampshire, Bob Bainborough, Zeljko Kecojevic, Philip Nozuka, Patricia McKenzie
Suggested Audio Candy
 Howard Shore and Metric “I Don’t Want to Wake Up”
 K’Naan “Mecca”
 Metric “Long to Live”
Name me a David Cronenberg film that doesn’t flirt with brilliance and I shall argue all day long that you’re deluded. The Canadian filmmaker has been making movies for six decades now and, never once, have I been anything less than fascinated with the results. Early on, it was his fixation with body horror that helped him to make his fine name but he had no intention of being labelled as a one-trick pony and has continuously evolved with the times. Crime thrillers such as A History of Violence and Eastern Promises appeared to mark a change of direction in the noughties and, more recently, he has been at it again. Cosmopolis may have divided opinion initially, but I believe it will be regarded as one of his finest in years to come.
“The phenomenon of reputation is a delicate thing. A person raises on a word and falls on a syllable.”
Anyone who follows his trail of cinematic breadcrumbs will see that there’s a method to his madness that goes beyond standalone works. To begin with, venereal horror was his focus and, while he has repeatedly revisited these origins throughout his career, the trio of Shivers, Rabid and The Brood slot together to form something of a three-piece whole. His 2014 film Maps to the Stars explored the hollow lives of those leading more charmed existences than the everyday white-collar worker and Cosmopolis is also cut from the very same cloth. That said, this particular film runs the risk of alienating its audience by appearing too smart for its own good. Stick with it however and you’ll see beyond that smokescreen.
Adapted from a novel by Don DeLillo, Cosmopolis sees Cronenberg return to screenwriting duties for the first time in well over a decade and the dialogue, while every bit as meticulous as you would expect, may prove a bone of contention for many. Pretentious in the extreme and pre-loaded with arrogance, it may feel as though we are being left in the dark as we scratch our heads and reach for our Thesauruses but it’s all just part of the plan. Moreover, the lion’s share of our 109 minutes will be spent inside a solitary state-of-the-art stretch limousine, leaving us unable to stretch our legs and take a break from the blinding science and egomaniacal blathering. To make things even less cozy, likeable characters are at a distinct premium and those who come and go seem all to be afflicted with the same pompous indisposition. Warmth is in scant supply and, barely fifteen minutes in, many of us will be begging the driver to pull over at the next hard shoulder. However, when Cronenberg is pumping the gas, we know better than that.
The luxurious stretch limo in question doubles up as the office for twenty-eight-year-old billionaire Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) and our journey is a decidedly sedate one through gridlocked Manhattan traffic as he heads for his barber of choice and a much-needed haircut. The first thing we may ascertain is that, while a swift short back and sides is a matter of extreme urgency to Eric, his follicles are hardly in dire need of attention. However, once one has accumulated an embarrassingly vast fortune through currency speculation and the management of assets, a single hair out of formation becomes unacceptable and it appears that shameless vanity is his reasoning for this impromptu trip. Actually, there’s more to this money hungry magnate than it first appears but we’ll get to that in due course.
“I like your mother. You have your mother’s breasts.”
En route, he makes a number of stop-offs and we are afforded the chance to rub shoulders with some of the people who frequent his personal space. One of these is his new wife and fellow financial climber Elise (Sarah Gadon) and the couple share a relationship hardly bustling with affection. He wants sex, she declines as the exertion would be more effectively donated to her work, and what is a filthy rich cat like Eric to do in such circumstances? Hit speed dial or, better yet, have his hired help do it for him. With his needs now fulfilled, he has some time on his hands and spends this discussing inconsequential trivia with each of his frequent visitors.
There is even time for a quick but thorough rectal examination which takes place, you guessed it, right there in his mobile office. To Eric, it’s just another day much like the last, although certain unsatisfactory developments outside of his personal bubble are about to change all that.
“A spectre is haunting the world: the spectre of capitalism”.
The fact that Manhattan is teeming with traffic isn’t pure coincidence as, aside from the imminent visit of the President of the United States, anti-capitalist activists have decided that today would be the ideal time for some exuberant demonstration and take particular exception to his chosen transportation as he represents everything they are opposing. However, if they think that spray-painting his ride will coax a reaction from him then they’re sorely mistaken as he barely bats an eyelid at their attempted graffiti. There’s also an assassin lurking somewhere in this vast metropolis, looking to relieve him of his last breath, and this too is water from a duck’s back. The fact that his organization is set to post devastating daily losses that will destroy everything he has built is a tad bothersome but none more so than the emergence of a mild facial pustule and he looks set to take it in his lengthy stride.
“Talent is more erotic when it’s wasted.”
What is more distressing is the announcement of the untimely demise of his favorite rap artist, whose tracks provide the audio for one of his two private elevators. This news visibly needles him and provides our first sign of imprisoned humanity begging to rise to the surface. Until now, it has appeared that Eric is simply incapable of feeling and wired only for currency.
However, gradually and subtly, we are witnessing something of a metamorphosis as this particular trip to the barber shop signals his quiet desperation to break free of his self-enforced shackles and see how the other half live. Aside from his asymmetrical prostate (which he frankly divulges at every opportunity), he feels decidedly unremarkable and, by stepping out of his shrink-wrap, begins to discover that perhaps he has been missing a trick all this time.
“You want me to be a helpless robot soldier, and all I could be was helpless.”
With reinforced spring in his stride, he decides to pay a visit to his embittered former employee Benno Levin (Paul Giamatti) for an enlightening tête-à-tête and it is here that we spend the entire closing act. Their conversation is a real eye-opener for Eric as his fixation with symmetry appears to be at the root of his troubles as that irregular prostate has been trying to explain all day. Suddenly, everything begins to fit into place and the entire journey feels more than worthwhile as, while Eric has finally gained the wisdom he desired, we have been present at his rebirth every step of the way, or mile clocked as the case may be. In a respect, Cosmopolis shares common ground with eXistenZ although it has not been a case of exploring a virtual world, but being reintroduced to the real one.
All of this wouldn’t be possible without Pattinson and his performance is downright exceptional. Beneath his expressionless front lies all manner of neurosis and self-loathing and he knows precisely when to bring it to the surface. Indeed, Cronenberg’s casting choice is, as always, simply inspired as he spots something in the young English actor that few others had the vaguest clue even existed and milks that for all it is worth. Giamatti is perfectly edgy and trepidatious as Eric’s harbinger of realization but we’ve known that he can nail this kind of role for years now, while all those who flit in and out throughout fulfill their brief to the letter.
However, it is Pattinson that is the real find here as he proves that he is far more than just a pretty face and chews each lengthy single-take monologue like he has far more than the faintest idea what he is harping on about. Meanwhile, special mention must also go to Howard Shore and Metric whose combined audio efforts yield sublime results and Peter Suschitzky’s cinematography which is the optical equivalent of hot wax.
“The logical extension of business is murder.”
There will be some who will take Cosmopolis as a scathing strike against capitalism and I’m not about to suggest that it wasn’t part of Cronenberg’s game plan when he thrashed out the screenplay. However, I’m always more intrigued by more personal threads and his film offers a fascinating case study. Whilst not the most instantly accessible of the Canadian maestro’s works, the proof of its quality lies in the fact that it didn’t conclude for me once the end credits rolled. Instead, I found myself dissecting it further and, had it been suggested to watch it again straight afterwards, then I’d be back in that limo stretched out before you could say “My prostate is asymmetrical”.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 9/10
Grue Factor: 2/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: In typical Cronenberg fashion, there’s at least one moment of sudden and harsh brutality that will catch you completely off-guard. However, Cosmopolis has precious little requisite for grue. What is catered for is carnal pleasure and mercifully this doesn’t extend to Eric’s rectal examination. Instead we can allow our minds to boggle over Patricia McKenzie’s perfectly symmetrical breasts, while reaching out for a bite of that tight brown booty.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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