David Cronenberg’s adaptation of Don DeLillo’s Cosmopolis plays less like a dramatic thriller and more like a 108-minute long panel lecture on the decline of Western capitalism. Led by Robert Pattinson’s stoic evocation of a post-Botox James Dean, the film offers a cold, calculated reflection of the cold and calculating. Unfortunately, much like the subject, I found the film frigid and uninviting–too, too solid.
Pattinson plays multi-billionaire investment banker wunderkind Eric Packer, who in the midst of betting most of his fortune against the Chinese Yuan decides to make a day-long trek across midtown Manhattan—which is already in a state of gridlock thanks to the arrival of the President, a celebrity funeral, and an impromptu protest—so he can get a haircut. Working out of his modified limo, Packer meets with a slew of underlings, learns of “credible threat” on his life, has multiple chance encounters with his new wife, and relishes in his own steady financial decline.
I would say that it seems more like a play, with it’s dialogue-centric plot, but even then it still wouldn’t amount to much more than a bunch of talking heads as a large majority of the story takes place inside the limo. It doesn’t seem to be a story that translates to film very well. For about 65% of the film, Pattinson’s character is practically hermetically sealed in his limo, talking about thinking outside the limits of “standard models” and what it means to spend money and about murder being the logical extension of business.
If you’re an economist or if the deconstruction of Western capitalism fascinates you or if you just like watching Robert Pattinson play lifeless characters, then this is probably a movie for you. And while the film does have some interesting things to say in its deconstruction of Western capitalism, coming from behind the impenetrable walls of a limo, with so much of the action kept at bay, it all falls pretty flat.
To be perfectly honest, throughout most of the film I was tempted to walk out. Fortunately, I did not and I was rewarded with the final scene between Pattinson and Paul Giamatti, which is almost worth being stuck in a limo with Pattinson for the first two-thirds of the film, almost. Giamatti plays Benno Levin, a former employee of Packer’s, and injects some much-needed humanity into the mix. The scene is a darkly comic summation to the film, which so succinctly gets the point of the film across that it is both a blessing and a curse. Yes, it’s the most engaging and dramatic non-talking head moment summing up the film in its entirety, but then why did we need to sit through the rest of the film in the first place?
If they want to release the one-act play version of Cosmopolis, in which it’s just the last scene with Parker and Levin, I’d happily watch that again. But as a whole, Cosmopolis is a tedious sort of anti-odyssey, following a detestable character on his mundane journey of self-destruction. Even though I did thoroughly enjoy the last scene and the film is peppered with some fine actors, going on a guided tour of the downfall of Western capitalism with Robert Pattinson as my guide is almost as exciting as doing my taxes.