A young genius discovers a series of patterns in the stock market, condenses it to an equation, and capitalises on it. A billionaire by twenty-something, his abilities to predict the world’s finances are undone by the smallest, most random of spikes. He had a map for the universe, but he forgot about the people that make it up. He didn’t factor in the human element. And that brief synopsis of Cosmopolis does not factor in the David Cronenberg element.
Cosmopolis does not follow as linear a path as the first two sentences of this review might imply, but the picture and its protagonist, Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) do follow a path; one of inevitable decline, populated by occasional, unpredictable, shocking bursts of bloodshed. It’s a potent return to (de)form for the Canadian filmmaker, whose most recent effort, A Dangerous Method, lacked the ferocity of classics Crash, Videodrome, and The Fly. The body horror is back here, but so too is the scorching social commentary. Cronenberg’s adaptation of Don DeLillo’s 2003 novel of the same name is a literal and ultra-logical meander through a crumbling metropolis, in which our hero ignores all the signs and warnings and drives head-first towards destruction. The book relayed the bursting of the dot-com bubble, but we’re obviously bringing some more recent baggage to this. Cosmopolis isn’t just about the Global Financial Crisis; in its words, and in its actions, and in its execution, it becomes the Global Financial Crisis.
Beginning his day with the single-minded determination to get a haircut, Eric Packer holds court in his technologically-bedecked limousine as it crawls across New York City, with body-man Torval (Kevin Durand) walking beside it all the while. He’s visited by employees, lovers, rappers; tormented by a pie-slinging assailant; denied sex by his icy new wife (Sarah Gadon), whom he keeps spotting at various locations. The limo keeps on crawling.
Packer’s investment in a foreign currency renders him bankrupt over the course of this endless day. The televised execution of the International Monetary Fund chief and the grammar, syntax, and ill-timed pause by the finance minister during a crucial statement sends the world into chaos. Revolution brews; anarchy erupts; the limo keeps on crawling, despite being targeted and tagged and almost torn-apart. Torval alerts Eric to a legitimate assassination threat. But Eric is on a path; one filled with repeated imagery (of rats; of extreme, grotesque violence), and patterns (of fornication; of stunningly boring meals with his wife), and it’s headed downwards, not up. The trend is undeniable.
Pattinson, like Jeff Goldblum, and James Woods, and Viggo Mortensen before him, has one of those perfect Cronenbergian faces. It’s as if he’s been moulded – shark-like, from the eyes to the jowls – to become the ultimate receptacle for the movie’s message. Supporting performers Jay Baruchel, Juliette Binoche, Samantha Morton, Mathieu Amalric, Emily Hampshire, and Patricia McKenzie each pop up for just a moment, so I daren’t spoil the role they play in Eric Packer’s life. Only Durant (slowly transforming into Christopher Walken) as his security guard and Gadon (wickedly hilarious) as his almost robotic partner appear throughout, and they are welcome presences.
Paul Giamatti is unveiled in the final act as the aforementioned human element. His sequence offers the best clues and keys to interpreting the seemingly impenetrable Cosmopolis, wherein Eric is confronted with the kind of street-urchin his formerly impeccable limousine was supposed to protect him from. But maybe we don’t need clues and keys to understand what’s going on here. Yes, Cosmopolis is often too talky for its own good; alienating and cynical and mostly unpleasant. However, Giamatti is able to convey some genuine emotion and pain in his scenes, and everything that didn’t make sense prior gains clarity through his sheer humanity amidst the film’s relentless flurry of cold, calculated, incoherent inhumanity.
Cosmopolis is now showing in Australian cinemas.