Cosmopolis (Canada/France, 2012)

August 16, 2012
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Cosmopolis Poster

Sometimes, even a little gratuitous nudity can't save a movie. This is one of those occasions. Cosmopolis easily trumps To Rome with Love as the biggest disappointment of 2012 from an established director.

How can characters talk for so long and say so little? Cosmopolis cranks the dullness meter to "11"; it's almost mesmerizing in a Waiting for Godot kind of way (not to imply that David Cronenberg approaches Samuel Beckett here). In general, I have a fondness for dialogue-based movies (witness my love of Eric Rohmer's oeuvre), but that's when there's meaning and emotion in the conversation. In Cosmopolis, the characters spout inanities. There's a lot of philosophical introspection that would put a psychiatrist asleep if a patient recited it on his couch. There are overly obvious sociological observations, like how the intersection of commerce and technology have forever changed the world (duh). Cronenberg occasionally pauses in his gab-fest for a little sex or violence, then it's right back to talking. And, since the dialogue is stylized, it sounds like characters are reading speeches off a teleprompter.

With every outing in which he doesn't wear fangs and sparkle in the sunlight, Robert Pattinson keeps trying to prove he can act and continues to pick really bad choices to convince his skeptics. On the surface, Cosmopolis sounds like a winner. It's adapted (from the novel by Don DeLillo) and directed by David Cronenberg who, although uneven, has been responsible for his share of memorable films. The supporting cast includes Juliette Binoche, Samantha Morton, and Paul Giamatti. I wonder if Pattinson read the script before accepting the job or whether the lure of working with Cronenberg seduced him into bypassing that step. His character, billionaire whiz-kid Eric Parker, is morally and emotionally bankrupt - traits Pattinson conveys by doing a lot of staring into space and delivering lines in a flat monotone. Who knows whether this is good acting or not?

It's easy to become frustrated and impatient with a production like this. The initial appeal wears off quickly when it becomes apparent the movie is going nowhere. It's essentially 100 minutes of a guy sitting in New York traffic in a limo, talking to various people who get in and out of his car. Why is he driving? Because he wants a haircut and his favorite barber is across town. He has chosen to go on a day when traffic is gridlocked because of a rap star's funeral and a presidential visit. So he conducts business, which isn't going well, from his high-tech back seat cabin, which has all the comforts of home and looks a little like a starship bridge. He is even visited by a doctor who gives him a prostate exam while he's having a sexually-charged conversation with a (female) business associate. (Admittedly, this is something I have never before seen in a movie, so Cosmopolis has that going for it.) He learns that his prostate is asymmetrical, which bothers him for the rest of the film. There's also a recurring motif involving rats that ties in to the idea of currency being revolting and diseased.

The storyline is sufficiently "out there" that it could have provided a decent framework for something bizarrely intriguing had the dialogue not been so boring. It's florid but banal. It becomes hard to focus upon because the cadence is more compelling than the actual words. The whole movie is weird and off-putting in a way that evokes the worst of Atom Egoyan's early films. Maybe it's a Canadian thing, although I doubt it. This reeks of the pretentiousness born when a filmmaker makes a move exclusively for himself and a few of his good friends. The distributor is Entertainment One, which I haven't heard of. That means everyone else passed, including Magnolia, which is known for picking up oddballs and "ugly ducklings" for video-on-demand release.

The movie tries to be intellectually titillating, but the vacuous nature of every conversation becomes apparent when one really listens to what the characters are saying. The dialogue has been written with the intention of fooling lazy viewers into thinking they're experiencing something profound. It's the film school fake-out: present a plot that essentially goes nowhere, incorporate a lot of weirdness into the mix, never bother to develop the lead, and give all of the characters a bad case of verbal diarrhea... and you have the kind of thing that a few people will praise because it's boring as hell and incomprehensible but which will act for most as a non-addictive sleep aid. Theaters showing this movie should consider installing beds.

Cronenberg, like Woody Allen, gets a pass for his bad efforts (and this is easily one of his worst) because he has the talent and ability to turn around and produce something spectacular next time. Cosmopolis is obviously intended for a miniscule audience, although the casting of Robert Pattinson will likely give it more exposure than it would otherwise have. (My guess - and it's just a guess - is that without Pattinson in the lead, this would have gone direct-to-video.) The film might have some appeal to those watching it stoned or drunk, but it's almost unendurable to sit through sober. Watching the slow progression of the second hand on a wristwatch as it makes about 100 passes is more entertaining.

Cosmopolis (Canada/France, 2012)

Run Time: 1:45
U.S. Release Date: 2012-08-17
MPAA Rating: "R" (Sexual Content, Nudity, Violence, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1