David Cronenberg has spent a 35-year filmmaking career exploring the line where people cross into an obsession that comes to define them and prevent them from connecting with other humans. The world of money in Don DeLillo’s Cosmopolis might be one of the most natural fits he’s ever come across—and the result is a movie that’s fascinating even when it’s inscrutable.
Robert Pattinson plays Eric Packer, a billionaire speculator in the financial markets whose goal in the narrative is simple: He’s just trying to get across town to his preferred barber for a haircut, even if it’s one he doesn’t really need. But his fortune is vanishing as his bet on the Chinese yuan goes bad, and a simple ride in his massive stretch limousine is slowed by everything from a celebrity funeral procession to a swelling movement of social unrest.
The “story” consists almost entirely of a series of conversations between Packer and various other characters—his employees (Jay Baruchel, Samantha Morton), his security chief (Kevin Durand), his new wife (Sarah Gadon)—that range from “somewhat opaque” to “almost entirely opaque.” The flat, clinical nature of the dialogue has driven many viewers to distraction, yet Pattinson in particular is tremendously effective at conveying a familiar Cronenberg theme: basic human desire colliding with a cold, technological world that doesn’t care if you get what you want or not.
It’s impossible to avoid the Great Recession-era subtext flowing throughout Cosmopolis, and equally impossible to ignore that the metaphorical/allegorical material gets laid on fairly thick, especially in the Occupy-esque movement that takes a rat as its symbol. Yet Cronenberg repeatedly finds moments of eye-opening clarity punctuated with dark humor, building to a gripping exchange between Packer and a would-be assassin (Paul Giamatti). If Cosmopolis remains chilly and remote, it does so in a way that often feels unsettlingly familiar.
Robert Pattinson, Sarah Gadon, Paul Giamatti