Directed by: David Cronenberg
Starring: Robert Pattinson, Paul Giamatti, Sarah Gadon, Kevin Durand, Samantha Morton, Juliette Binoche, Emily Hampshire
I never thought I’d say this… I hated a David Cronenberg movie. I hated this fucking movie. Jesus Horatio Christ, I HATED this fucking movie.
Anyway, Cosmopolis is based on a novel by author Don DeLillo. Never heard of him before, not very interested in reading any of his work if the film is any indication of his style. Movie stars Robert Pattinson, pretty much exclusively as all other actors in the flick are there to react to him.
The basic plot(if it can be called that) is this: Pattinson plays Eric Packer, a multi-billionaire asset manager. He wants to get a haircut AT ALL COSTS, so he has his people drive him across Manhattan on a limousine to an old barber who’s a friend of his family. He tries to do this while the President is in town, a famous rapper’s funeral is holding traffic, and there’s a friggin’ anti-capitalist anarchist riot going on, and yet he complains that all this is basically unimportant and he should be magically whisked above it all. During the journey, he coincidentally encounters his wife, Elise(Sarah Gadon), and constantly asks her to have sex with him, but just ends up eating breakfast, lunch and dinner with her instead, since she constantly tells him that she thinks the marriage won’t work and that he smells of sex with other women… cause he has sex with other women. He pretty much fucks every other woman in this flick. The rest of the film he acts like a self-important bored prick. Because of bad decisions, he actually, by the end of the film, is pretty much headed towards financial ruin, and he honestly doesn’t give a fuck. In the ending, a disgruntled former employee(Paul Giamatti) may or may not have killed him, and I don’t give a fuck. Yeah, the plot can be basically summed up as “stinking rich prick gets bored and fucks up his life for shits and giggles.”
Ok, first, the good parts: Cosmopolis, as is expected of Cronenberg, is perfectly shot and paced, and the soundtrack by long-time collaborator Howard Shore is AWESOME(in fact, the ethereal soundtrack mixed with rock riffs reminded me a lot of Crash’s soundtrack, which I fucking loved). And the actors actually do a good job. Not an EXCELLENT job, but their acting was ok.
It’s THE SCRIPT that is absolutely fucking horrid.
First, the plot itself. Look, a fall-from-grace story can be a powerful cautionary tale and a fascinating character study when handled right(there’s a reason Citizen Kane is considered one of the best films of all time). But the character also needs to have redeeming qualities, and it’s the loss of these redeeming qualities to hubris that make the story have impact. If a character has no virtues, we don’t care if he succumbs to his flaws. That’s not tragedy, that’s karma. If the character has what pretty much can be considered an enviable life(riches, power, women dying for your dick) and he himself fucks it up on purpose, well, who gives a shit? That shit should be reserved for the tabloids, not for a movie. And that is the dilemma about this film: it asks us to look into a man’s life as he spirals into self-destruction but doesn’t give us any logical reason to care about it except that he’s the film’s protagonist.
And we go on to the main character: Eric Packer is a totally reprehensible asshole. He supposedly has actual affection and desire for his wife, but he only addresses her with intentions of sex. He even points out in one conversation that he’s actually having a conversation, as if to point out that yes, he’s capable of thinking of something other than sex. This comes off as shallow and full of shit to his wife as it does to the audience. He treats his employees as tools, with no show of care about their well being or even their status as a person. He has sex with an art dealer(Juliette Binoche), and right afterwards steers the conversation to wanting to acquire a famous artist’s work just because he HAS to have it. She reasons with him that that particular piece has historical value and should be made available to everyone, he replies that if he bought it, it’s his and no one else’s to do whatever he wants with it. One of his star employees(Jay Baruchel) is on the border of a nervous breakdown because of overwork and he just keeps badgering him about how good his limo’s information security is. He picks up an employee(Emily Hampshire) in the middle of her day off to make her give him financial advise, and does it WHILE GETTING A PROSTATE EXAM FROM A PERSONAL DOCTOR. The guy has the bluntness of a knife made of cream cheese. Hell, he even talks in the Royal We, the ultimate sign of condescension and entitlement.
In one particular scene, he meets up with a rapper(K’naan) and learns that his favorite rapper just died of a heart condition. Packer seems visibly despaired, giving possible hints of humanity, but then he ruins it by saying that he used to listen to his music on his personal elevator. He sees the rapper’s death as a loss for his musical tastes, not as a human being who has expired and should be mourned for who he was and not for what he did. Later, he has a conversation with his chief of security, who’s spent the entire film constantly warning Packer about attempts on his life and protecting him, and Packer just grabs his gun and shoots him dead. Just because. And he does it in public, with a gun that can only be traced to him. What’s intended to come across as a man losing his grasp on sanity and heading towards his downfall comes off as a guy being an uber-prick to another human being who only had his best interests in mind just because he can get away with it.
Many people have said in positive reviews for this film that Eric Packer is supposed to represent the ugly side of big business, and that the film is, in some way, supposed to represent the indifference of the big companies towards the Occupy movements that have sprung up during our economic recession. I call ABSOLUTE BULLSHIT on that. Packer, by halfway through the film, is actually performing deeds that will bring about his financial ruin on purpose, which no CEO on the planet with half a brain would attempt. We accuse the heads of big business for hoarding money for themselves, always trying to get richer, yet the character that’s supposed to represent them actually does not care if he’s broke? Also, the anti-capitalist rioters are painted in the worst, most bugfuck crazy way possible. They throw dead rats inside restaurants, supposedly trying to raise consciousness to a cause but coming off more as insane zealots who can be considered a legitimate threat to public safety. They spray-paint and attack limousines on the streets. They burn and pillage like the worst of mobs. Hell, one of them even immolates himself as a form of protest, Vietnamese monk-style. Really? A bad economic situation is big enough a cause for protest through SUICIDE? This has a terrible effect on the film: we can’t sympathize with Packer cause he’s a self-absorbed asshole, but we can’t sympathize with the average man either cause he’s fucking insane.
The film also has one characteristic that will make me hate ANY film: pretentiousness. The movie paints itself as having some kind of deep meaning, something to say, yet it’s all psychobabble. In one particular scene, Packer is talking to his chief advisor Vija(Samantha Morton), and she starts on this LONG rant about the nature of money and how it affects the perception and value of time. This would be fascinating stuff… if this were a movie about philosophy. Instead, it’s a character piece about a corporate magnate. Corporate magnates don’t give a shit about their advisors peppering them with philosophical discussion. An advisor is there to advice about the company. So basically, the movie paints the characters as supposed visionaries who have a deeper understanding of the way the world market works because they understand the underlying philosophy behind it. And yet, these visionaries are running a company to the ground and don’t do anything about it. Completely stupid. Hell, Vija even mentions that she doesn’t understand how the financial report screens in Packer’s limo work. HIS CHIEF ADVISOR DOESN’T KNOW HOW TO READ FINANCIAL REPORTS. That’s like hiring an engineer who doesn’t understand basic algebra!! And then, when they go by the immolating protestors, she remarks that it’s “not original”, that setting yourself on fire is nothing new, an imitation. This is supposed to represent how corporate America doesn’t care for the little man, but it just further cements that these are not real people, they are caricatures of what we supposedly believe about corporate America. No rational human being reacts to a man burning alive with indifference.
And that basically is an illustration of my biggest gripe about the entire film: it’s a cartoon. It’s not satire, it’s cartoonish parody. It is not smart, it is pretentious. The characters do not talk at all like human beings, they have a theatrical, snobbish affectation, i.e. artificiality to their speech. I called Eric Packer condescending earlier in the review, but he cannot really be accused of that since he’s SOOOOOO divorced from the average man that he couldn’t possibly even have a frame of reference. The movie hints that he made his company out of humble beginnings and that he was poor before he became powerful, but his attitude is one of such immense entitlement that he comes off more as a royal completely oblivious to the common man than as a man who sold out. The rioters who are supposedly fighting for their rights are merely background noise and more at home in a third-world country than on the streets of New York. The story has all the hallmarks of badly done fanfiction.
The saddest part? Cronenberg himself penned the screenplay. I don’t know how good or bad the book is, but I seriously doubt that it’s as shallow and insipid as the film’s script is. This film is, in my opinion, an awfully done vanity project. As a regular joe, I seriously cannot identify myself with this film on ANY level. I don’t feel it insults my intelligence because the film is not intelligent at all. I don’t feel it represents me as an average person in a bad economy because the characters who are supposed to represent me in the film are caricatures of the worst of anarchists. I don’t feel happy to not be Eric Packer because he’s more like a malfunctioning robot than a flawed human being.
Seriously, Cronenberg, why are you making me hate you? I wasn’t impressed with A Dangerous Method and now you’re actually pissing me off with this flick? PLEASE make your next film a return to form, my heart wouldn’t take another disaster like this.