The Good: Direction is good, Moments of themes
The Bad: Awkward acting, Unlikable characters, Virtually plotless
The Basics: A droning, plodding film about the last day of a tycoon, Cosmopolis is boring instead of audacious.
I like complicated movies. I like complicated and smart movies. In fact, one of my favorite films of all time is Magnolia (reviewed here!) and that film is smart, complex, and exceptionally layered. What separates it from being pretentious is the fact that the characters resonate with genuine human emotions. At the end of it all, the themes explore deeper, universal truths about humanity. It is complicated and smart without being pretentious. I loathe pretentious movies.
Cosmopolis is nothing but pretension. Filled with pretense, characters who speak almost exclusively in riddles, and themes that are presented almost to the exclusion of the characters who embody or articulate the themes, Cosmopolis is a very pretentious film. I suspect that it is solely the fact that writer David Cronenberg’s project that got Cosmopolis made. Cosmopolis is based upon a novel and it is worth mentioning that I have not read that book, so this is a very pure review of the film Cosmopolis.
Eric Packer is a hugely successful young businessman who leaves work in his limo to go get a haircut across town. He spends the ride with his analyst and longtime business partner, Shiner, who assures him the business is secure. He abruptly leaves his limo to meet Elise, a young blonde who insists she likes riding in taxis and seems mostly immune to his charms. After getting back in his limo, Eric has sex with a different woman and continues his trip across town. Over the course of a full day, he meets with anti-capitalist protestors, hookers, and the manager of a black musician who died of natural causes and whose funeral, like the protest, blocks Eric’s way. He meets with Elise again, at a bookstore and at a hotel after he has sex with a different woman.
After night falls, Eric ends up at the barber he set out to meet. En route, he is assaulted by an artist who smacks him in the face with a custard. Impulsively, Eric kills his own bodyguard and gets his hair cut. After returning the graffiti-stained limo to its berth, Eric ends up in the lair of a man who has been out to kill him all day and the two face off for a conversation that reveals Eric’s place in the Capitalist machine.
I’m an anti-capitalist (not as freakish or maniacal as the ones in Cosmopolis), so when I write that Cosmopolis is boring and jumbled, it is not because I do not understand the perspective of the anti-capitalists. Instead, I find Cosmopolis loathsome because the characters are vacuous, largely flat and monolithic, the plot is dull and drags on largely uneventfully and the performances are so stiff as to make Robert Pattinson’s portrayal of Edward Cullen in The Twilight Saga (reviewed here!) look positively charismatic and exciting. As it is, though, the film is so deliberately opaque through most of the film that I had to look up what the relationship between Eric and Elise actually was. Sure, they mention being married in Cosmopolis, but they are so passionless, detached from one another and speak in circles so frequently, that it was not entirely clear in the film that they were actually married to one another. Moreover, the fact that Eric has sex with at least two other women in the course of the film did not make their relationship clearer.
I was a bit miffed to see that Cosmopolis is considered science fiction (by some); the only aspect of science fiction in the film by my reckoning is the voice-activated firearm used by Torval. And even that did not seem any more fantastic than the fingerprint-activated firearm used in Skyfall (reviewed here!). The rest of the movie seems to be remarkably straightforward in its technology and themes. When those themes are made clear, about the way capitalism destroys the masses to benefit the few and dehumanizes those who control the wealth of others, Cosmopolis is more than just all right. Unfortunately, it seldom does that.
Instead, Cosmopolis is largely a guy we don’t care about stuck in a traffic jam all day. He uses his massive limo as an office, taking on visitors throughout the day and very few of them are actually interesting or engaging enough to justify the almost two hours of boredom that the film includes. He fucks two women, flirts with two others (one of whom is his wife) and all the encounters are equally unmemorable. In fact, the only bit of amusement in the entirety of Cosmopolis for me was the discussion Eric has with the musician who did not die. The two talk about how it’s almost a shame that the dead rapper did not get to go out in a blaze of glory; he simply died of natural causes.
Throughout Cosmopolis, there are references to the visiting president and currency fluctuations, but Eric receives the news and reacts to it all blandly. This forces Robert Pattinson, who plays Eric, to present a great deal of exposition, which he does with a stiffness that is almost inhuman. In fact, the scene in which Eric is having his prostate examined while flirting is so dryly delivered, it is only the camera angles and intercuts to the doctor that inform the viewer what is happening to the protagonist.
Sadly, the film’s ultimate antagonist, played by Paul Giamatti, comes into the film far too late to engage the viewer. Moreover, in a complete failure of casting, Giamatti’s first appearance on screen is conspicuous. The role of Benno Levin should have gone to a complete unknown; when Paul Giamatti walks by the limo early in the film, he sticks out like a sore thumb. Amid all the pedestrians, I found myself exclaiming, “Hey, that’s Paul Giamatti!” And, given that this is not an Edward Hitchcock film and Paul Giamatti is not assuming a Hitchcockian cameo, the viewer is tipped off early and simply waiting through a particularly droll day for Giamatti to pop back up.
Benno Levin’s part in the film is not one that is hard to be sympathetic to, but it is not incredible-enough to justify the rest of the movie. Had the narrative technique been something more interesting, even a Memento-esque retracing presentation, the film might have been a little more engaging. As it is, the film is stiff and demanding upon the viewer, with little real reward for the viewer’s attention. In other words, it is all pretense, with little payoff.
For other films focused on big business and tycoons, please check out my reviews of:
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
Thank You For Smoking
For other film reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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