If there’s one film director who can make audiences flee, it’s David Cronenberg. Anyone who watched Crash, his graphic tale of car crashes and sex, or his adaptation of William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch, knows as much. What will unsuspecting Edward Cullen fans do?
Maybe they’ll read the reviews of Cosmopolis and spare themselves the discovery. Even Cronenberg’s admirers (including me) will find little to be enthusiastic about. Pattinson is good, as are Jay Baruchel, Juliette Binoche and Paul Giamatti. Unfortunately, watching a man sit in a limousine for nearly two hours—no matter how much sex or prostate spelunking goes on—is anathema to entertainment.
The choice to adapt Don DeLillo’s poorly received novel isn’t as misguided as the decision to stick so closely to it. Cosmopolis is the year’s dullest viewing experience thus far.
The story, such as it is, follows Eric Packer (Pattinson), a multibillionaire. He loses everything in currency speculation, but, really, he just wants a haircut. His limousine ferries him, lugubriously, across Manhattan, delayed by the president’s motorcade and a prominent musician’s funeral procession.
The mounting dread and precise speaking that work so well in the director’s earlier films, such as Videodrome and even eXistenZ, returns. Unfortunately, the script, which Cronenberg wrote, is devoid of subtext, wit or inventiveness.
For example, someone informs Packer that protesters against the rich—shades of Occupy Wall Street, though Cosmopolis was first published in 2003—are invading restaurants where the rich eat and throwing dead rats at patrons and staff. What happens a couple scenes later? Packer is sitting at a diner counter with his wife (a beautiful, bland Sarah Gadon; the blandness probably isn’t her fault) and a bunch of protesters run in, rats in hand.
It’s possible that Cronenberg has outlasted his filmmaking usefulness. It used to be that a Cronenberg film was about something—whether it’s sexual repression (They Came from Within), AIDS (The Fly) or what it means to kill (A History of Violence). Now, on his third dud in a row (Eastern Promises and A Dangerous Method are bad, but not his bad), he seems like a man searching for an interesting subject and finding nothing but stilted dialogue.
Even the action is stilted. The few action scenes—“action” used advisedly—look as if they’re rehearsal takes where the actors are still learning their cues and not certain how the blocking shakes out.
Perhaps Cronenberg should again direct a screenplay written by someone else. That didn’t help Eastern Promises or A Dangerous Method, but A History of Violence, written by Josh Olson, is Cronenberg’s last great movie. Its shocking brutality meshed well with the director’s penchant for clinician-like precision.
A movie featuring a guy (mostly) sitting in a car doesn’t need a clinician. It needs energy.
Directed by David Cronenberg
With Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche and Paul Giamatti