Starring: Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, Sarah Gadon, Kevin Durand and Paul Giamatti
The main problems I have with Cosmopolis I understand are there by design. This is a cold and detaching film about a cold and detached character. The problem about that is that it leaves you cold and detached. Cronenberg made his name through “body horror” an d now in his later years he seems to have graduated/promoted/evolved to the brain. I understand this is meant to be an “intellectual exercise” rather than an emotional, psychical and/or visceral experience. As a seventeen year old film fan who is keen to explore Cronenberg’s back catalogue and see all different kinds of films from the likes of Dark Knight Rises to Indie Game: The Movie and Moonrise Kingdom, I was really looking forward to Cosmopolis. However Cosmopolis did frustrate me due to its stagey, repetitive and tedious nature. Most of the reviews I have read, seen and heard about Cosmopolis reference the film’s “ideas” however I don’t remember any of the film’s ideas, I do however remember certain images, lines, scenes and moments.
For me, the excerpt on Rotten Tomatoes from Stephanie Merry’s review for the Washington Post perfectly posits one of my problems with the film:
“It feels like each and every moment bursts forth with urgent dialogue, and yet what does anyone actually say?”
I don’t have a problem with dialogue driven films. In fact some dialogue driven films are among my favourite films ever made. However all the dialogue in this film is written so cryptically and delivered in such a monotonous manner, that it never fully interested or engaged me. Now I know what the default response to this criticism of Cosmopolis is by the film’s defenders. “So you’re going to blame the film just because you didn’t understand the dialogue” the problem wasn’t that I didn’t understand the dialogue, in fact a lot of the time they were discussing topics I am interested in and want to learn more about. My problem with the dialogue is that it is over-written and under-performed. For the majority of the film it also felt unforgivably un-cinematic. In fact even during some of my favourite scenes I was wondering why I was watching this on a screen and not seeing it on the stage or the page. I have not read the book (Although I intend to) however, to quote another review, Colin Covert of the Minneapolis Star Tribune may have pinpointed this particular criticism as residing in Cronenberg’s screenplay:
“The film is all too faithful to its un-cinematic source”
In fact having researched the book it sounds as if Cronenberg may have ignored some of its more interesting and cinematic images. This film is undoubtedly full of ideas, however I never felt like it truly, fully and thoroughly explored any of them. Every idea I was interested in, such as rats becoming currency and the rioters were brought up briefly and then dropped. I could forgive the film not fully exploiting these ideas if the character I was following was fully developed. However you can sum this character up in a sentence, Robbert Pattinson plays it in a completely one-note way and I don’t blame his acting for that but rather Cronenberg’s direction, as pretty much every actor in the film plays it the same way (Therefore diluting the impact of Packer’s personality). I never felt like I got to the bottom of this character or that the film ever got to the bottom of all its philosophical musings. Reading what people have brought to the film rather than what the film brings to us is more interesting and exciting than the film itself. I’m refraining from calling the film pretentious and self-indulgent as I feel those are easy and lazy words to throw at this film. However I do wonder whether the majority of critics would have responded to this film the same way if it wasn’t Cronenberg directing it but somebody like Richard Kelly. It’s ok to admit that this film is slow, tedious, repetitive, monotonous, frustrating and at times boring, that doesn’t make you stupid or any less of a film critic. Some people who are pretentious have been quick to label anybody who criticizes this movie as stupid and afraid of something they don’t understand. Just because you don’t understand or enjoy a film, that doesn’t make it a smart film. Some people don’t need to pretend to like confusing movies to make themselves feel smart.
Now I’m not saying that Cosmopolis is a bad film because it’s not enjoyable or entertaining. Some of the best films I have seen are not what one would call enjoyable or entertaining. However if you’re not going to give the audience that then you need to be much more fascinating, interesting and affecting than this film is. I’m not dismissing this film outright as there are parts of it that have stuck with me and I do want to give it another viewing before fully deciding where I stand. There are many things about Cosmopolis that I appreciate (Such as the film taking place in a Limo for its majority, something that could have been better done) and I wanted to like this film much more than I did when I first saw it.
When Pattinson’s Eric Packer finds out that a famous rap star has died, his response is, “But his music plays in one of my elevators” Perfect. There’s a scene where Packer gets a pie shoved in his face which results in a delirious, deranged and gripping soliloquy from Mathieu Amalric. And the final scenes between Robert Pattinson and Paul Giamatti are superb and I cannot wait to watch that part again. It is no coincidence that all these scenes take place in the latter half of the movie, where Packer is removed from the limo and Cronenberg removed from his philosophical, glass house, cold and detached bubble and shoved into the real world. While I don’t personally hate Cosmopolis I can understand why people would, however I cannot understand or comprehend somebody completely loving this film. Maybe I’ll be proven wrong and this film go on to be some unappreciated masterpiece however I’m willing to take the risk of being wrong here by saying, this won’t go on to be some unappreciated masterpiece. For the time being, I’m willing to stand alongside Roger Ebert with this one.