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Cannes Review: 'Cosmopolis'

Robert Pattinson and David Cronenberg team for a creepy 'comedy' of capitalism and car service …

By James Rocchi May 25, 2012 4:57AM

Rating: 4/5


If paranoia were to have a poet laureate, you could argue that both parties behind "Cosmopolis" would be eligible for the title. Based on the novel by Dom DeLillo -- whose novels "White Noise," "Libra," "Mao II" and others have explored the shadows of the American century from nuclear anxiety to assassination to cult behavior -- "Cosmopolis" unfolds in a single day, as a young fund manager (Robert Pattinson) decides to take his great white limo across Manhattan for a haircut, stuck in both traffic and his decisions.  DeLillo's prose resists easy adaptation -- it resists easy reading -- and the director who's accepted the challenge inherent in DeLillo's syllables and symbolism and conceits and conspiracies is David Cronenberg, the director of "Videodrome," "The Fly" and "Naked Lunch."


It's not the first time DeLillo has had his work on-screen, and it's not the first time that Cronenberg has tackled a supposedly unfilmable novel.  But there's a satisfying synergy in the meshing of their themes and topics and means and methods, as Eric obsesses about getting to his favorite barber and about what's happening to the global currency markets as his speculation on the rising Chinese Yuan is about to wipe out his fortune and his company.


Eric's worried that some secret cabal or plot is working against him; as the saying says, just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you, but, at the same time, just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they are. With his driver Torval (a sly and funny Kevin Durand, who you'll recognize from "Lost," doing great work) asking if Eric really wants to make the trip, the rat-and-tat of DeLillo's dialogue, as adapted by Cronenberg, begins to take shape: "Traffic will be a nightmare; the President is in town." Eric's distracted: "The President of what?" Torval blinks. "The United States." Eric's unimpressed and undaunted by the prospect of the Secret Service snarling Manhattan traffic in the name of security: "Do they still even shoot Presidents?"


The dialogue is rapid-fire, so much so that it leaves bullet holes. And as Eric goes across town in his ridiculous car -- with the world coming to him in the form of business meetings, sexual liaisons and even doctor's appointments in the back of the limo -- we realize that Eric is the epitome of modern capitalism. The titans who make our world are small, broken people. And, interestingly enough, if you're casting for a dead-eyed shark wreathed in unearned privilege, Pattinson turns out to be a pretty good choice.


The film looks better than many of Cronenberg's recent efforts -- clean but not clinical, even if Cronenberg still seems more comfortable on a soundstage than in the world, and even as the process-shots where the world outside flickers by while inside the limo have the sterile flatness of a "driving" sequence in "North by Northwest." And as Eric talks to his head of info-security (a wiry, wired, Jay Baruschel) and his wife (the beautiful, blank Sarah Gadon) and others, the conversations spin out to cover the terrifying and the trivial, the blunt and the banal, from nothing to everything and back again. (I kept thinking of the meeting between Lawrence Harvey and Janet Leigh in "The Manchurian Candidate," whose first conversation on the train is both meaningless and incredibly important; every conversation here plays like that.) Like "Videodrome" did for television, "Cosmopolis" looks at capitalism and big business as consensual hallucinations that are hardly consensual, and definitely real. Eric drives into a protest right out of the Occupy Wall Street movement, while managing the collapse of the global financial markets, even though the book was published in 2003, demonstrating that either DeLillio is very smart or we are very dumb.


There are other cast members who do an excellent idea of wrapping their heads around DeLillo's big ideas and Cronenberg's indirect dialogue -- Juliette Binoche and Samantha Morton, Mathieu Almaric and Paul Giamatti -- and the music, by Metric, supplies the right kind of spiky, sensuous unease for a man driven across town and driven to self-destruction. The film's cynicism is both majestic and well-earned; at one point, Eric notes "… nobody hates the rich ... everybody thinks they're ten seconds away from being rich." A chilly, crisp and crystal-shard sharp satire of our money-crazed world, "Cosmopolis" takes us on a limo ride through the collapse of modern society: We're not behind the wheel for this ride, but rest assured, in the end, we're going to have to get out and pay for it. 


("Cosmopolis" is now debuting in competition at Cannes.)



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