Director David Cronenberg used be all about creeping us out while making us think. With the likes of The Fly, Scanners, The Brood, Dead Ringers and my personal favourite Videodrome, he delivered some of the most memorably creepy imagery in film history within what somehow still managed to be intelligent and thought-provoking experiences.
As of late, however, Cronenberg’s tact has changed to a more grounded approach with often shocking moments of violence thrown in for good measure (see A History of Violence and Eastern Promises). His last film A Dangerous Method, a disappointingly subdued and frankly tame experience, certainly wasn’t a return to the earlier style and going by his latest, Cosmopolis, he doesn’t seem be much interested in that anymore.
Based on the book by Don DeLillo, Cosmopolis centres on Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson), an extremely wealthy 28-year old asset manager who rides around all day in his white stretch limousine. He travels down a path of self-destruction and enlightenment as he talks to an array of diverse characters.
It must be said that Cosmopolis is not going to be for everyone. It is strictly a one-note sort of film and if you don’t like what you’re hearing then it’s going to be pretty torturous viewing. But if, like me, you’re in-tune with the tone, style and direction of the film then it provides for a fascinating and intellectually nourishing experience.
As we go from one extended monologue to the next, with everyone from Jay Baruchel and Juliette Binoche to Samantha Morton and Paul Giamatti making prolonged appearances, the film tackles the likes of capitalism, greed, apathy and even the nature of celebrity via off-kilter performances and hypotonic dialogue. The latter is done in a very mannered fashion, almost as if the characters are reading from an invisible script, which helps give the film an other worldly quality. It’s not necessarily that it feels unreal but rather an alternate version of our own world, isolated from the problems the characters spend the whole movie talking about.
Shot beautifully by Cronenberg’s regular cinematographer Peter Suschitzky, it has a crisp and clean look to it, enhanced by the pristine (at least to begin with) white limousine in which most of the movie takes place and even the dirty streets feel somehow anew. It reminded me most of Kathryn Bigelow’s Strange Days except right on the brink of spilling over into anarchy, a “what if” world ruled by capitalism.
At the centre of it all is Robert Pattinson who’s clearly out on a mission to prove he’s capable of more than sparkling in the Twilight. Other more experienced thespians like Giamatti and Binoche do make him rather pale in comparison but nevertheless it’s a brave, surprising performance akin to a more restrained Patrick Bateman.
Cosmopolis will undoubtedly be a divisive film as its tone and monologue mentality won’t be to everyone’s tastes. But for me it was a weird, captivating experiment in the tackling (or at least discussion) of very real-world issues under restraint of minimal locations and mannered dialogue. It may not be the crazy David Cronenberg we know and love but it’s an interesting left turn on a path that last time threatened to go stale.
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Cosmopolis is released in UK cinemas on June 15th.