To most people who see David Cronenberg's Cosmopolis without having read the 2003 Don DeLillo novel upon which it is based, the film will probably seem laughably pretentious and dull — because even if you have read DeLillo's book, it sometimes is.
Cosmopolis is both a journey across New York City and a journey into its protagonist's past. One morning, "foully and berserkly rich" young capitalist lion tamer Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) decides he wants a haircut. No matter that the president of the United States is in town and several major streets are blocked off or that his security detail tells him there's a credible threat on his life — Eric wants what Eric wants.
Through the tinted windows of his sleek, white limousine are glimpsed scenes from violent political protests and a Sufi rap star's funeral. Inside the limo, Eric holds court with financial advisers, art dealers, and whiz-kid tech-heads, most of whom are awed by his status as the supremely confident, unfathomable product of the marriage between capitalism and technology.
Pattinson's blankness works well here; his features tend to blur and fade, not unlike the way the mental picture of a character in a book gains and loses definition in a reader's mind. Eric may not be a billionaire as much as he is a Daily Worker caricature of one, yet he somehow rules the collapsing world around him.
As weird and stretched out as the film often looks, the dialogue is often remarkably prescient and dense, especially during Samantha Morton's appearance as Packer's "chief of theory." Her mantra, "I don't understand any of this," punctuates her numerous provocative musings about time, money, and rebellion.
Because Cronenberg is a filmmaker who excels at adapting novels for the screen, the film's strengths are greater than its weaknesses. Cosmopolis may highlight some of the flaws in DeLillo's novel, but there's plenty to mull over and chew on throughout this rich, dreamlike work.
Opening Friday, September 7th, at