SINCE his early days of gooey terror titles such as Scanners and Videodrome, David Cronenberg has earned a reputation for giving us what we dread, and making it a lot worse.
In the old days, those subconscious fears were bits dropping off (The Fly), or twin gynaecologists with oversized tools (Dead Ringers). Now those repressed anxieties appear a little more domesticated: a marriage overloaded with baggage (A History Of Violence), or having your sex life dissected by two blabbermouth shrinks (A Dangerous Method). Your bank statements could be next – and in a way, they are.
After all, the central character in Cosmopolis is a financial whiz kid who steers the market, and is so overgifted that he’s played by Twilight heartthrob Robert Pattinson. As Eric Packer, Pattinson looks cool, ritzy and disconnected as he steps into his limo one morning in search of a haircut. It’s a short journey across Manhattan but, thanks to traffic snarl-ups, his trip takes all day.
Along the way, Packer barks at an underling (Jay Baruchel), has sex with a mistress (Juliette Binoche), runs into his Wasp princess wife (Sarah Gadon) and conducts a series of motile meetings with his consultant (Samantha Morton) and advisers who warn him of the perils of his strategy of betting against the yuan – warnings that he ignores, losing millions of dollars belonging to other people as well as himself.
Cronenberg has lifted chunks of dialogue from Don DeLillo’s novel, which means that, as in the novel, everyone talks like pulseless cardboard abstractions. There’s a lot of intellectual shock and awe in DeLillo books, but he’s not that interested in characters: they’re just vessels for ideas. In Cronenberg’s movie, this results in a lot of stilted, academic discourse. It sounds like Samuel Beckett having an aneurysm.
Cosmopolis has ambitions to be a Homeric odyssey through America’s money culture, and its target is the gluttony of privilege. Packer’s appetite for sex, stimulation and acquisition is shown to be insatiable and amoral.
In other words, Cosmopolis is another rant about the global economy’s use of virtual money, and how wealth has become about riches beyond need.
This end-of-days doominess is all-pervasive: there’s an encounter with a full-on riot, a funeral procession for a beloved musician, not to mention Packer’s death threat from former employee Benno Levin (Paul Giamatti).
Cronenberg’s mannered, theatrical film feels studenty and a little embarrassing, with its fervent belief that didactic encounters are a powerful artistic statement, and that nihilistic clichés signal something bleakly profound.
There are moments of self-conscious satire, such as a custard pie assailant and a thorough examination of Packer’s asymmetrical prostate conducted by his doctor in the back seat of the limo, but Pattinson’s fan base may feel the joke is on them. So far they have been underwhelmed by Water For Elephants, Remember Me and Bel Ami, and while it’s laudable that he aspires to demanding material, Pattinson’s performance in Cosmopolis could only be electrifying if the cinema borrowed Packer’s bodyguard’s stun-gun.
Even the reliably fab Giamatti can’t get Pattinson to crank up the power when Levin confronts Packer in a 22-minute face-off. However, Benno becomes Cosmopolis’s most hopeful character, because if he does kill Packer then we can all go home.
Director: David Cronenberg
Running time: 108 minutes
• On general release from Friday