After a strong run of films during the past decade, David Cronenberg blows a tire with Cosmopolis.
Lifeless, stagey and lacking a palpable subversive pulse despite the ready opportunities offered by the material, this stillborn adaptation of Don DeLillo’s novel initially will attract some Robert Pattinson fans but will be widely met with audience indifference.
DeLillo’s short, chilly 2003 book adopted a Ulysses-like format of a man’s journey across a city in a single day to presciently foresee the anarchic “Occupy” mentality rising up to protest the financial shenanigans of the ultra-rich. The means of conveyance is a white stretch limo; to those in Cannes who have seen Leos Carax’s controversial, much wilder Holy Motors, in which the central character wends through Paris in a day in the same vehicle, the coincidence begs the question of whether Carax knew about DeLillo’s novel.
By contrast, Cronenberg’s film is remarkably prosaic, confined through long stretches to the dark and narrow interior of the car, only to be concluded by a static half-hour final scene that feels like a two-character Off-Off-Broadway play.
Pattinson’s Eric Packer, not yet 30, is a brilliant financial visionary who never puts a foot wrong. With billions at his disposal, he practices rarefied and enormously profitable business strategies incomprehensible even to his colleagues while cocooning himself in an enormous apartment and his sound- and bulletproof car.
This day, his whim is to travel across Midtown Manhattan, east to west, to get a haircut. His bodyguard Torval (Kevin Durand) warns him about the complications presented by a presidential motorcade, resultant protests and what he terms “credible threats” against Eric’s own life. But the cold young man, presiding from what resembles a black leather throne in the middle of the car’s back seat, feels aloof from physical danger.
One by one, figures from his life join him in the car or for brief pit stops at a diner or bookstore: His blond wife (Sarah Gadon), whom he doesn’t seem to know that well or spend much time with; his art dealer (Juliette Binoche), who vigorously screws him and talks to him about a “Rothko chapel” that has become available; a financial guru (Samantha Morton), who warns that, “Something will happen soon”; a mad “pie assassin” (Mathieu Amalric), who achieves his longstanding goal of creaming the elusive Eric in the face; and a man (K’naan) with whom Eric commiserates about the sudden death of a charismatic black musician whose funeral procession is causing further traffic chaos.
On the page and on film, Eric is a controlled and controlling figure, a man impervious to society’s norms who one must feel has a mind operating well beyond the capacities of mere mortals. He’s utterly humorless and without detectable compassion or accessible humanity, which makes him less than companionable as a character. Pattinson doesn’t help matters by revealing nothing behind the eyes and delivering nearly all his lines with the same rhythm and intonations, plus repetitive head nods in the bargain. It’s a tough character that perhaps a young Jeremy Irons could have made riveting, but Pattinson is too bland and monotonous to hold the interest.
The shortcomings are compounded in the long climactic scene in which, after a startling bit of violence, Eric settles in to a dumpy building on the far West Side to be confronted by desperate and armed former employee Benno Levin (Paul Giamatti). A self-confessed nonentity and no-hoper, Benno’s rants about Eric’s riches and his ultimate plot function made DeLillo’s book disappointingly predictable in its resolution and do the same here, making for a tedious, airless final act. Coming from Cronenberg, the pacing and staging of the scene are remarkably conventional.
Disappointingly, the director could not find a way to electrify the energy of the opposition (sometimes seen outside the limo’s windows, which also allow Eric to shut off the rest of the world like a TV set), nor has he found a fluid, quasi-hallucinatory technique for transitioning among the numerous situations and their constantly changing participants. Of the guest cast, Morton probably makes the strongest impression as an adviser closest to Eric’s level of expertise.
Shot in Toronto studios with considerable rear projection and some location shots, the film would have greatly benefited from the continuous presence of the real New York, but financial considerations clearly prevented extensive work there.
Venue: Cannes Film Festival (In Competition)
Opens: May 25 (France), June 8 (Canada)
Production: Alfama Films (France), Prospero Pictures (Canada)
Cast: Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, Sarah Gadon, Mathieu Almaric, Jay Baruchel, Kevin Durand, K’naan, Emily Hampshire, Samantha Morton, Paul Giamatti, George Touliatos
Director: David Cronenberg
Screenwriter: David Cronenberg, based on the novel by Don DeLillo
Producers: Paulo Branco, Martin Katz
Executive producers: Gregoire Melin, Edouard Carmignac, Renee Tab
Director of photography: Peter Suschitzky
Production designer: Arv Greywal
Costume designer: Denise Cronenberg
Editor: Ronald Sanders
Music: Howard Shore
No rating, 108 minutes