Thursday, September 27, 2012

Cosmopolis (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets
by Ian Brockway

Cosmopolis In what might be thought of as an existential and abstract version of "Arbitrage", here is David Cronenberg's "Cosmopolis", an adaptation of Don DeLillio's novel of the same name. "Cosmopolis" in both book form and film, is ( at least in my mind) an interpretation of Brett Easton Ellis' "American Psycho". Both films and novels have similar tones, themes and some equally far out dialogue throughout. Both stories also have similar obsessions with wealth. In "American Psycho" it is restaurant reservations, but here it is the paintings of Mark Rothko and the prostate.

Before I go any further, I'll admit that if you are not a fan of David Cronenberg you probably won't get this film. I happen to like Cronenberg's way of treating everyone as if they are from Saturn, so I took everything in as a matter of course. This is Cronenberg as usual.

Robert Pattinson plays Eric Packer, a selfish and distracted assets manager who would make the public image of Andy Warhol into a chattering jitterbug. Packer speaks in off camera asides throughout the entire film as his urban environment floats through him. And if this puts you off, as it will, it's supposed to.

Cronenberg as well as DeLillio have conceptual aims here in showing a cypher of a man who rolls rather than walks through a cold and formal geometric world. And although this is not a new idea, it has evolved into Cronenberg's personal trademark, in much the same way as Spike Lee describes his Brooklyn bubbling over with emotion, gliding by quickly in festive colors and it worked for me. In contrast, Cronenberg's style is one of ice, surface temperatures with clinical, often medical terms and associations in dialogue.

Pattinson seldom addresses anyone face to face. He looks out a window, at his sleeve, crotch or shoe. He is less a man than mannequin. Eric Packer's eyes are invariably glazed. He is either wincing or bored. Many might lose patience in this portrayal with total lack of character intent. But for me, it is a visual mediation on Albert Camus or something very close to it. Packer is an adult Billionaire, but he just as well might be an aloof adolescent. His blank stare seldom changes.

The more inactive Packer becomes, the more animated his visitors are, who incessantly barge in on him in his limo like the neighbors from "Pee-Wee's Playhouse". Packer has visits from four advisors, a mistress, a wife, and a medical doctor, all from his limo seat and that's not all.

"Cosmopolis" works best on a visual level. Packer's limo is electric with all the soft operatic feeling of Stanley Kubrick's spacecraft from "2001" Light pours from Pattinson's fingers. He is a vampire locked in the reaches of nihilistic space while his porcelain features echo a bit of Malcolm McDowell's haunting portrayal from "A Clockwork Orange". When Eric finally exits his space-station limo, passersby plague him like suspicious insects in a William Burroughs novel.

We get the feeling that Packer is guilty of crimes just by the mere fact of his breathing, of taking up space. This is no accident. Cronenberg, after all, directed the film adaptation of "Naked Lunch" (1991). The director is terrific in showing the paranoia in the mundane and its silence. The director's devotees will be able to pick up all the familiar Cronenberg touches here: a serpentine mistress, (Juliette Binoche ) an extraterrestrial newlywed (Sarah Gadon), along with a full-fledged medical exam and some startling percussive moments. Last but not least, there is a pie in the face that is filmed like a Hitchcockian murder scene.

The only stumble in tone and feeling for me is the appearance of Paul Giamatti as one of Packer's disgruntled employees. This role is far too familiar for him, too histrionic and over-the top to balance in an interesting way with Pattinson's space-man drift. But this is only a minor wrinkle to what is a flawlessly smooth and all out odd film. The word "haircut" has never sounded quite so strange spoken aloud, nor has there been a prostrate so mythically asymmetrical.

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[Editors Note: This review has been amended in acknowledgement of the comment below.

1 comment:

Rogue said...

I'm totally confused as to why you say that Giamatti's character isn't in the novel. Clearly you didn't read the novel. He absolutely is, and every line the character speaks in the film is directly from the book.