This week in movies you missed: In 2012, Twilight fans flocked to a movie that lectured them about “cybercapital.” Then, we’re guessing, they flocked straight out again.
What You Missed
Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson), a 28-year-old billionaire asset manager, wants a haircut. He sets off across Manhattan in his stretch limo, though his chief of security (Kevin Durand) warns him of unrest in the city.
Along the way, Packer chats with his ice queen wife (Sarah Gadon); gets busy with his art dealer (Juliette Binoche) and various other ladies; watches anarchist protesters immolate themselves; and receives a very thorough physical from his doctor while having an intense conversation with a colleague (Emily Hampshire) about the vicissitudes of the Chinese yuan, which threatens to bring down his business empire. Will he survive the trip with his 1-percenter identity intact?
Why You Missed It
Despite the Pattinson factor and the smaller (but committed) fan bases of director David Cronenberg and novelist Don DeLillo, on whose book it is based, Cosmopolis only reached 65 U.S. theaters.
Should You Keep Missing It?
Watching Cosmopolis and Holy Motors on the same night (thanks for the screening, Burlington Film Society!) I was struck by the similarities. Both are movies about a man riding through a city in a stretch limo over the course of a single day. Both those men discuss how technology is “melting into the texture of everyday life,” as Cronenberg’s script puts it. The digitization of life itself is a subtheme in both movies. Both protagonists leave their protected vehicles to have fleeting encounters with the highs and lows of society. Neither film aims to be “realistic,” and both are labors of love by the director, too out there for big ticket sales or U.S. awards consideration.
Given all these similarities, why did I, a Cronenberg fan, love Holy Motors yet find Cosmopolis a trial to sit through?
Well, there are the differences. Holy Motors is a relatively quiet film where a lot of insanely memorable stuff happens. (You may not like it, but you can’t deny it’s memorable.) It’s driven by the performance of Denis Lavant, who embodies a slew of characters experiencing all kinds of emotions with great abandon.
Cosmopolis, on the other hand, is a film where people talk. And talk. And talk. They talk about things that fascinate both DeLillo and me, including the rise of “cybercapital,” how people are becoming “streams of information” and how “time is a corporate asset now.” The problem is, every single person in the film talks this way. Pretty much all the time.
A sample exchange: “My prostate is asymmetrical.” “What does this mean?” “I don’t know.”
Rest assured, we will be informed of the meaning of Pattinson’s asymmetrical prostate by the end of the film, and a grad student could probably write a paper on said meaning. The question is, do we care?
Cronenberg undoubtedly knew what he was doing when he chose this cold, cerebral, dialogue-driven approach to DeLillo’s novel. He elicited a perfectly solid performance from Pattinson in the role of the cold, cerebral hero. (Paul Giamatti and Samantha Morton also play key roles, but Binoche is the only actor who seems like a human being.)
It’s an accomplished movie, and those who like the deliberately alienating aesthetic will love it. But I prefer my Cronenberg with some human grubbiness, some humor, perhaps even some exploding heads.
And I like my movies about ideas to contain at least halfway-believable characters who can illustrate said ideas with their actions. (Martin McDonagh's work comes to mind.) Eric Parker never feels like more than a construct, and that, for me, is the downfall of the film.
Verdict: Cronenberg fans will see Cosmopolis anyway. Pattinson fans should stay far away, except perhaps for the ones who enjoy this Tumblr. I think they’ll appreciate the scene where his character has a public rectal exam.
Each week in "Movies You Missed," I review a brand-new DVD release picked for me by Seth Jarvis, buyer for Burlington's Waterfront Video, where you can obtain these fine films. (In central Vermont, try Downstairs Video.)