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Movie Review: Cosmopolis

Cosmopolis poster


Movie Review: Cosmopolis

The short shelf lives of even the best individuals. The apathy towards one’s surroundings. The vibe that the world is on the verge of collapse but being desensitized towards it all. These are all valuable and well-presented elements of the movie.

Movie Poster: Cosmopolis


Directed by David Cronenberg
Screenplay by David Cronenberg

Robert Pattinson, Paul Giamatti, Samantha Morton, Sarah Gadon, Mathieu Amalric, Juliette Binoche

How long is Cosmopolis? 108 minutes.
What is Cosmopolis rated? R for some strong sexual content including graphic nudity, violence and language.

CLR [rating:4.0]

Lead Robert Pattinson Hinders
Cronenberg’s Could-Have-Been Remarkable Film

A 28-year-old multi-billionaire (Eric Packer played by Robert Pattinson) takes his stretch limousine across New York City to get a haircut. That’s the plot of David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis, which is based on Don DeLillo’s 2003 book of the same name and story. During his trip crosstown, Packer must sit in hours of traffic due to the President’s visit, massive protests against capitalism, a celebrity’s funeral, flooding, and other happenstances. Yet despite all the potential for calamity, this movie is primarily focused on philosophy- what’s left for the man who has everything?

A prodigy who is no longer the youngest guy in the room, Packer is numb with life and painfully bored. Rich enough to install two elevators in his apartment- one at a quarter speed with special music because it helps center him, he has daily medical check-ups and purposely isolates himself from the outside world. The President of the United States is barely a blip on his radar. Protestors spray painting and rocking his limousine mean nothing to him. He has an “old money” wife whom he barely knows. He has sex regularly, but he’s more interested in getting tazed by one of his partners. Death threats against his life barely raise his pulse. He has a stretch limousine that doubles as an impersonal mobile office with multiple touch-screens running endless streams of numbers from various markets. On the day of Cosmopolis, he purposely sets out to lose hundreds of millions of dollars by betting against the Yuan because where else can he go other than self-destruction?

As writer and director, Cronenberg is in his wheelhouse. The ability of technology to keep money moving 24/7 and analyze things at sub-microseconds takes the world away from people and gives the economy a life of its own, one beyond human understanding. The A Dangerous Mind and Spider filmmaker does an excellent job of showing Packer’s isolation. Despite New York City streets being filled by angry, destructive protestors looking to attack the rich, and what we see from the windows seems like apocalyptic chaos, he keeps the film centered in Packer’s small field of vision. The scenes in the stretch limousine are such a terrific blend of high-tech claustrophobia that by leaving it every once in a while, we unfortunately lose what could have been a powerful sense of suffocation had we escaped from that setting less.

Cosmopolis had the potential to be a very strong, poignant movie, especially considering today’s financial situation and the Occupy protests. The overwhelming feeling of impotency from both Packer and the anarchist protestors- they might throw rats in a restaurant, hassle cars, or cream someone with a pie, but you never get the sense that they have any real impact or control. The dominance and omnipotence of technology and globalization. The short shelf lives of even the best individuals. The apathy towards one’s surroundings. The vibe that the world is on the verge of collapse but being desensitized towards it all. These are all valuable and well-presented elements of the movie. And even though the film rarely goes into depth on the theories it poses, it doesn’t need to, and it wisely decides to broach ideas and leave them out there rather than present treatises. If anyone could make a movie like this work, it would probably be Cronenberg. But Cosmopolis makes one serious misstep that nearly drags the entire thing down. And it’s Robert Pattinson.

David Cronenberg’s COSMOPOLIS, Robert Pattinson, 2012. ph: Caitlin Cronenberg/©Entertainment One

Robert Pattinson as Eric Packer is Cosmopolis.
Photo: Caitlin Cronenberg/©Entertainment One

Despite seeing him in several roles, I never had any real thoughts on Pattinson as an actor. Never considered him terrible (there’s only so much you can do with Twilight if you’re not Michael Sheen), never considered him good. Although he definitely tries and shows some range, he is simply not up to the task of being a Cronenberg lead, especially in a “weird” Cronenberg film.

The more offbeat Cronenberg films are able to get away with narrative oddities, underexplored theories, and loose ends because they’re quasi-surrealistic experiences of concepts and ideas. You get the emotional and mental benefits of his films because he allows you to tap into them on a visceral level, like a dream. But the key is having a lead capable of taking you on the journey into the darker, indefinable parts of humanity. James Woods in Videodrome, Jeremy Irons in Dead Ringers, and James Spader in Crash, to name only a few examples, give some of the best performances of their careers as they become our vessel into Cronenberg’s universes. They give very internalized and nuanced performances as they adopt their new realities. The character of Eric Packer would have made for a great addition to this remarkable crew, but Pattinson is too surface, and he lacks the broody, intellectual intensity necessary for such a role.

While Eric is supposed to be cold, there are ways to make such a cypher interesting. The first example that comes to mind is Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman in American Psycho. Also dealing with the type of materialistic ennui as the protagonist of Cosmopolis, Bateman commands the screen as he goes through his existential crisis due to in great part to Bale’s superb work. Bateman might be dead inside, but even in his quieter moments, Bale gives him a compelling inner life that makes the character so memorable. Pattinson lacks the presence and complexity necessary to pull this off and transport us into Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis.

To be fair, like I said above, Pattinson does try. He gives occasional character tics, like slight looks of joy when he sees extreme violence and a sense of glee as he’s about to face a potential assassin, but this was a character demanding more than blips of personality. The inability to enter Packer’s mind and soul prevents us from accepting the world of Cosmopolis, and because we cannot become part of him, the movie, unfortunately, fails to fully connect.

Cosmopolis Trailer



  1. xulux

    September 21, 2012 at 4:01 pm

    I’ll bet they thought of casting Bale, he’s the obvious choice, but he was probably too expensive for their budget. I respect Cronenberg for taking a chance on Pattison, he was a wild card and a big risk. But Christian Bale was also a risk when he was cast as Patrick Bateman as a replacement for DiCaprio–and look at what an astonnishing performance he delivered. Mary Harron hit it big taking that chance. (I haven’t seen the film yet, so I can’t judge Pattison’s role).

  2. Charles Almon

    September 20, 2012 at 1:42 pm

    I’m no authority on either the author or actor but this preview left me unmoved about HAVING to see this film.

  3. abbeysbooks

    August 26, 2012 at 5:09 pm

    One thing is obvious from your review: you haven’t read DeLillo’s Cosmopolis, but maybe that’s a good thing. Cronenberg misread it so badly that he made a another narcissistic film that eviscerated DeLillo’s Cosmopolis. Eric did not set out to “purposely lose hundreds of millions of dollars” . DeLillo played his implosion of “the yen” with Francisco d’Anconia’s implosion of the San Sebastian Mines taking down hundreds of millions of investor money on the way down. The two characters did the same thing. Has anyone ever said that Francisco was a self-destructive masochistic loser? Well, if they did, they are dead, because Rand would have murdered them so bad they would be mute for the rest of their lives.

    Dagny to Francisco (AS p. 115): “You did it consciously, cold-bloodedly and with full intention.”

    Eric Packer sees The Burning Man and knows Vija Kinski is wrong when she says, “There is no outside.” (A direct quote from Foucault BTW). The market canot absorb human sacrifice IF it is paired with an excess of reality, and when it is we have “implosion” (this is Nietzsche and Baudrillard in Forget Foucault BTW). At this point in a fever of exhilaration and triumph Packer now deliberately “disappears all his money and all the investor money with him, crashes the entire market as no global currency is now worth anything at all against the yen, yen being a huge nod to Lacanian psychoanalytic theory.

    Excuse me, Cronenberg changed yen to yuan to make it more literal. DAVID! Hey! Yen was never meant to be literal, it was meant to resonate with “want”, need and desire. But unconscious Cronenberg uses yuan, and in the mouth of an English speaking person, yuan resonates with longing and yawning, the passive nihilistic man Nietzsche talks about.

    Denby is the only one who understood Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis as a complete entity BECAUSE he reviewed within a Meyer Shapiro Formal analysis with the final paragraph being the one exception.

    Your review is just an opinion of a poorly educated blog reviewer. I expected more from The California Literary Review, but maybe that’s just a fancy name.

    • BlueJoubert

      September 21, 2012 at 12:41 pm

      Wow abbey. Thanks so much for your insight and analysis. Now I have a real desire to read the book. I’m not a Pattinson fan, but that’s not the only reason I will wait to see the movie upon release to cable movie channels. Incredible post in my opinion. Thanks again.

      • abbeysbooks

        September 21, 2012 at 2:14 pm

        Please read my blogs on Cosmopolis at http:// cosmopolis film 2 at blog spot dot com Don’t know if I can post a hot link or not so put it all together and you will be there. It’s a feast especially if you love DeLillo. About 70 different ways of reading this novel and I stll can’t finish!

  4. Doug Brunell

    August 26, 2012 at 10:52 am

    I love Cronenberg, but the actor is why I stayed away from this.

  5. idolstruck

    August 25, 2012 at 8:04 pm

    It seems you are in the minority.

    Majority of the reviews from critics in Europe, in the USA as well as casual viewers are of the opinion that Robert Pattinson gave a terrific performance. In fact, if you will rate his performance vs the rating for the entire film, Pattinson’s performance gets a very much higher rating than the entire film. Btw, thanks for the review.

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