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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August 24 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 34
Hypnotic Cosmopolis a descent into Cronenberg madness
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Hypnotic Cosmopolis a descent into Cronenberg madness

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

COSMOPOLIS
Opens August 24


I have not read Don DeLillo's novel Cosmopolis, on which director David Cronenberg (A Dangerous Method, Eastern Promises) based his screenplay, so I do not have a clue how the Canadian auteur's hyper-sexualized adaptation compares to the source material. What I do know is that it fits distinctly within the director's canon, a second cousin to Videodrome and Naked Lunch, and from the first few moments I knew for certain whose world I was in and that I was in for a bumpy ride, seriously unlike anything else out there.

Is that good news? In part. This movie has passion, a kinetic drive bordering on hypnotic. This is a world similar to our own yet at the same time completely alien, the parallel energies running through the proceedings keeping me off-balance and continually on the edge of my seat. As stilted and as aloof as the dialogue and the mannerisms can be, as theatrically monotone as Cronenberg asks his cast to say their lines, there is reason to all the madness, a point to the tedium, everything building to a treatise on the here-and-now that packs a mighty wallop.

When I say wallop, boy, do I mean it. Star Robert Pattinson finds himself face-to-face with an oily parasitic bottom-feeder - or so he seems - played with ferocious relish by Paul Giamatti. The artifice of all that's preceded this sequence is slowly stripped away, the one-dimensionality of Pattinson's portrait proving to be just another of Cronenberg's illusions as the actor begins to awaken, evolve, and emote in ways heretofore unseen. The points the director is trying to make - the ideas about wealth, self, life, poverty, country, and community - come crashing to earth, and even if the final fade-out is as vague as they come, that doesn't make the effect it had on me any less palpable.

It's getting there that's the chore. The movie depicts a day in the life of financial whiz-kid Eric Packer (Pattinson), heading off in his limo to get a haircut on the other side of Manhattan even though his chief of security, Torval (Kevin Durand), urges him to do otherwise. Along the way he encounters his newlywed wife, Elise Shifrin (Sarah Gadon), has meetings with various members of his inner circle (Samantha Morton, Jay Baruchel, Philip Nozuka), hooks up with his artistic muse (Juliette Binoche), and has his daily medical checkup - almost all of these events taking place inside his high-tech vehicle.

These sequences, taken on their own, are more or less bizarre, disjointed, and only tangentially connected. They are brief vignettes, all delivered in some sort of monosyllabic hallucinogenic dream state that's decidedly unnerving. Emotions are raw, but you can't get a grasp on any of them, Cronenberg keeping an aloof air of pretense and artifice throughout that's hardly invigorating.

It all looks and sounds stunning, of course, and part of me is saddened by the fact that few will take the time to seek out this picture - from a technical standpoint alone, this is one of the better efforts of the year. Peter Suschitzky's (Spider) cinematography is particularly stunning, and when you consider that almost all of the action takes place inside a stretch limousine, that's high praise indeed. The film is also spectacularly edited by Ronald Sanders (The Bang Bang Club) and magnificently scored by Howard Shore (Hugo), their contributions key to making certain facets work as well as they do.

Even with my reservations - and I have more than I can easily get into here - I cannot get Cosmopolis out of my head. Where Cronenberg leads us, the final discussion he catapults Pattinson and Giamatti inside of, the filmmaker manages to bring things full-circle in a way I find fascinating. The acts and the illusions of the first 90 or so minutes are shown for what they were, the futility and drudgery of Packer's ambitions revealed for what they are. The film may be a mess, but it's a glorious mess, and those willing to take the ride will engage in a journey they're unlikely to soon forget.

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