Hello everyone, it’s your favorite internet film critic, Elessar (and yes I know, I’m not actually your favorite, let me pretend). Welcome to what I hope will be a semi-regular feature around here. You see, this week, I was at a loss for what to review. None of the things I wanted to see were playing near me, and I didn’t want to see anything that was playing near me.
So instead of spending my precious time and money seeing something I had no interest in, I was struck by inspiration, after a suggestion from my old friend Silverwolf: Why not review something I already had on DVD? After all, these gaps come up pretty frequently. I could make a regular thing of it. So I decided to do just that. But…with a twist.
The movies featured on this column will not just be movies I feel don’t the amount of respect they deserve. They will be weird, different, strange, perhaps even unpalatable (although I’ll try to refrain from recommending stuff like Irreversible). They won’t even necessarily be good, they’ll just be movies I found interesting and wanted to talk about. So, with all that in mind, away we go.
So I was naturally left with a choice of what movie to talk about. And after considering several options from my (admittedly considerable) DVD collection, I decided to choose a movie that shares a director and actor with one of the movies I wanted to see this weekend (Maps to the Stars…the other was It Follows). And while I’d normally ask you to guess what movie it is, but it’s up there in the title.
Adapted from a novel by Don DeLillo, Cosmopolis is a movie that sounds pretty awful on paper. I know, because I’m always recommending it to people and it’s hard to describe it in a way that makes people want to see it. The plot is devoted to Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson…bear with me here), a billionaire asset manager living in the near future in New York City.
One day, after losing billions in currency speculation, he decides to go across town in his limo to Queens to get a haircut, despite the President visiting and tying up traffic, as well as the threat of an assassin coming after him. Along the way he meets with his financial, medical and artistic advisers, his wife and several bodyguards and has…several weird an existential conversations with them.
See, I’m having trouble selling it, but it’s the execution that makes it more than anything. Cronenberg is a masterful director, always has been. His directing here is more subtle and understated than his more overtly weird Videodrome and less intense than A History of Violence but he’s still at the top of his game here.
You’d expect a movie where 90 percent of it takes place in the backseat of a limo to emphasize the claustrophobic nature of it, hell you’d expect it to not have any choice. But you’d be surprised how much isolating space he manages to conjure up with good blocking and camera work. Characters who are essentially (and in one case literally) on top of each other seem to be in entirely different rooms.
Even the limo itself seems isolated, with the sound from outside deadened to the point where the entire world seems far away. At one point a literal riot happens outside the limo, and the characters inside continue their conversation as if nothing was happening. It’s hitting the metaphorical point, of how cut off and isolated the lead is, extremely hard, but it works in setting the mood and tone.
This level of cold distance comes across in everything. The screenplay is fascinatingly written in pursuit of that end, characters talking in bizarre circles around each other. There are multiple scenes that seem to consist of two characters talking past each other, about topics ranging from economics, to philosophy to what music Packer plays in his elevators.
Even Pattinson seems to have been hired with that goal in mind. Cronenberg has never been a director beholden to trends, so you know he didn’t hire Pattinson just because he was in a popular movie series at the time. He gives a cold performance (that might just be his natural affect) that emphasizes just how completely detached his character is.
The other actors are all turning in good performances as well. Paul Giamatti shows up in a small, but crucial role, and gives us not only the single most memorable part of the movie, but one of the more committed performances of his impressive career (remember: Good in everything). On the minor side, Kevin Durand is an interesting presence as Packer’s bodyguard and Sarah Gadon is interesting as Packer’s recently married, but already estranged, wife.
Of course, I’ve actually hit on the main reason this movie didn’t do so well when it first came out, and that’s because it’s…well weird, even by Cronenberg’s standards. The flowery and often obtuse dialogue combines with the cold performances and distant cinematography to create a movie that feels alienating and impenetrable.
It’s not actually impenetrable, the themes and metaphors aren’t too complex or difficult to understand and the plot is fairly straightforward, but it feels that way, and the unlikeable characters and cold tone means that it’s hard for some people to work up the desire to even see it. Once you do, it’s an experience like no other, something that you immerse yourself, but the film isn’t interested in making it easy for you.
Cosmopolis is a movie that made it onto my top 10 of 2012 list, and in order to be in its spot it beat out a ton of movies, such as: The Avengers, The Grey, Looper, Chronicle, Lincoln, Seven Psychopaths, Django Unchained… While that may be undeniable evidence of how pretentious I am, it’s also undeniable evidence of how unique and engaging this movie is. If you can find a DVD copy of it, it’s definitely worth checking out, if only because you’ll never see another movie like it.
Elessar is a 25 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he really hopes some Twilight fans went to see this because Pattinson is in it.
– fantastic direction, in service of a unique tone
– great, if bizarre, screenplay
– actually really good performances from Pattinson and Giamatti
– cold and distant tone might turn some people off
– ending might leave some people unsatisfied (not me though)