“Violence needs a burden, it needs a purpose…” So does a film, or it becomes a burden. Such is the case of Cosmopolis, basically a drawn out book club discussion of Niall Ferguson’s The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World.
On the film side, it’s Waking Life, that is to say, episodic blather about Big Important Issues™, but instead of animated Intro to Philo musings, it’s all about the Benjamins…and set in a “stretch,” the jet-black limousine confines permanently occupied by bored billionaire Robert Packer.
Packer (the wraith-like Robert Pattinson) is a literary creation from the book of the same name, 2003’s Cosmopolis, by Don DeLillo. (Editor’s note: this reviewer owns a copy of DeLillo’s Underworld, which he makes an annual attempt to read. A test of endurance that began in 2005 with no end on the horizon.)
This stinging review of the novel, courtesy of the New York Times, could also apply to the film adaptation: “Beware the novel of ideas, particularly when the ideas come first and all the novel stuff (like the story) comes second…”
Cosmopolis is about a 1%er’s search for a haircut, a tactile and real experience that runs counter to his daily reality: market speculations regarding the Yuan and accumulating and losing hundreds of millions of dollars depending on the day. This is set against the backdrop of a presidential visit and an associated Occupy Wall Street rally by assorted ax-to-grind anarchists who spray paint his limo and subject him to lots of abuse.
Along the way, Packer is driven along New York’s “Madison Ave” – in reality, University Ave. in Toronto, known for its research hospitals and consulates. Given that the global equity markets are so intertwined, it seemed unnecessary to have Londoner Pattinson adopt a close-mouthed New Yawk accent here when he could’ve just been his ol’ British self. Or for that matter, to have Toronto stand in for the Big Apple considering Toronto is a global financial powerhouse in its own right, and its stock exchange one of the largest in the world in terms of market capitalization.
Packer interacts with various underlings and courtiers; in one instance sexually propositioning one of his currency traders while getting a prostate exam (his personal physician even makes “house calls” to the stretch). He’s a newlywed too, with a frigid blonde missus (a “cold hard cash” correlative? We won’t speculate).
There are a few highlights, including a terrific turn by Quebec actress Patricia McKenzie as one of Packer’s bodyguards (see image), as well as some trademark Cronenberg violence.
But ultimately Cosmopolis is an exercise in stone-faced self-satisfied maundering. And ironically, for a director who’s become known for cinematic claustrophobia (witness Spider or Shivers), he doesn’t manage to conjure up much of it, despite this being set in the back of a car.
**1/2 (out of 5)