Thursday, February 28, 2013

Cosmopolis: A Review (Review #509)


Maybe the book was better, because I can't imagine Don Delillo's novel Cosmopolis being anywhere near as boring and self-important as David Cronenberg's adaptation is.  One can perhaps admire how Cronenberg captured the cold, dispassionate nature of the financial world Cosmopolis takes place in, but it does not make up for being slow, confusing, and ultimately uninteresting to almost anyone.

Taking place in one day, Cosmopolis is about Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson), a wunderkind of high finances who wants to get a haircut.  He wants to get it at a specific, nondescript barbershop clear across New York City where he got his hair cut as a child.  He doesn't want the barber to come to him or to use another barber, and he has several obstacles blocking him.  There is a Presidential motorcade, an Occupy Wall Street-type protest, and a rap star's funeral all in his way.  Nothing will dissuade Eric from getting his hair cut.

Thus he goes on the odyssey across the city, where he meets with all sorts of people in his ultimately pimped-out limousine.  Among those are Shiner (Jay Baruchel), some sort of technical genius, mistress Didi Fancher (Juliete Binoche), financial advisor Vija Kinsky (Samantha Morton), a hooker whose name I don't remember, and other people I can't recall.  He is guarded by Torvol (Kevin Durand) and meets for breakfast, lunch, and dinner with his new bride, Elise (Sarah Gadon).  During the course of his trip, Eric discovers the billion-dollar fortune has vanished, and someone is after him (hence the protection).  Eric is not disturbed by anything: not the loss of the fortune, not the stalker, not the wild protests that launch rats as the new currency.  About the only thing that does affect him in any way is the rap star's funeral (though I'm not sure exactly how since I had drifted off to sleep for a few minutes).

Eventually, Eric does get his hair cut (after he killed Torvol) but he ends up near his stalker, one Richard Steele (Paul Giamatti), whose real name is Benno Levin (or is it the other way 'round).  In any case, they get to talking, Eric shoots his hand, and Cosmopolis ends with Richard pointing a gun to Eric's head, then fades to black.

The words best descriptive for Cosmopolis would be 'pretentious', 'indecipherable', and ultimately 'boring'.  Despite what could only be described as both Cronenberg and DeLillo's best efforts (with Cronenberg adapting DeLillo's novel) the translation fails spectacularly.  I get the idea that Eric is suppose to be this cold, uncaring being, selfish and cruel to those around him.  That being the case, why do or should we care about him?  More to the point, why are we given this strange odyssey for Eric to undertake if we're going to just be introduced to characters who just pop in and out without rhyme or reason?

Take Binoche's mistress.  For once, Binoche's French accent proved to be distracting for the first time.  Let's leave that aside for a moment.  You have her talking with Eric about buying a painting for his collection.  That's nice, but what do we care?  Again and again he meets people who talk about things we cannot possibly follow, understand, or care about.  They might make sense to them, but certainly not to us.

I say 'might' because I suspect not even the characters appear to fully understand what all their grand pronouncements about Capitalism Without Morality (if there were such a thing as Capitalism WITH Morality) has corroded the soul.  Everyone seems to be speaking but their words have no meaning apart from sounding like so much white noise.  EVERYONE speaks in this same, stilted, mannered speech.  Even Richard Steele/Benno Levin is as pretentious as Eric.  All the people in this thing are spouting all this gibberish as if it were deep and esoteric when it's really all so awful in both delivery and meaning. 

I suppose that given Pattinson's Eric Porter is this dead-eyed bore it makes Cosmopolis his richest, deepest work.  Right from the get-go Pattinson is bad with his blank monotone delivery, and for some reason known and understood only by Cronenberg everyone was asked to follow Pattinson's lead.

More bizarre are moments that clearly must have been for comedy, or at least seems so wildly out of place in a serious drama like Cosmopolis.  The most nutty part is when the International Monetary Fund head is murdered on-air during a North Korean interview.  The whole sequence is not taken seriously, or at least I can't imagine anyone watching it taking it seriously because it is acted as if it were all a joke.  I can't figure out why a North Korean is interviewing anyone as if there were such a thing as 'chat shows' from the Hermit Kingdom (Good Morning Pyongyang, perhaps?) and given the totalitarian nature of the North Korean regime it seems impossible to believe someone could be murdered on the air and get away with it.  It's all just so stupid, and it makes a mockery of the grand pretentions Cosmopolis aims for.

For those awake during Cosmopolis, we get moments of total unintended comedy.  Apart from the North Korean Morning News sequence we get one of his meals with his sex-starved young wife.  She knows he's been fooling around in that limosine that looks like a spaceship.  "You smell like sex", she says, and I expected her to start singing Sex and Candy.   I wish she would have livened things up.

I understand what Cosmopolis was trying for: an exploration of the soul of one who is soulless.  It doesn't mean that Cosmopolis has to be boring.  A film may be remote and distant, but if one is dropping off while watching it, if one can't enjoy it, then there really is no reason to take a ride.        

Even R-Pattz fell asleep during Cosmopolis...


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