Eric Packer wants a haircut. Such is the simple premise for David Cronenberg's Cosmopolis, an increasingly complex film. Robert Pattinson plays the billionaire Packer whose trip in his sleek, white limousine—which is equipped with high-tech computer systems and a toilet—turns into a daylong odyssey. The Manhattan streets are gridlocked thanks to a visit by the president of the United States and a large funeral procession for a rap artist whom Packer happens to be a huge fan of—leading to an awkward hug with the rapper’s manager. Along the way he holds meetings—in his limousine—with the chief advisors in his company, dealing with some yen-related currency drama and an anti-capitalist riot that is reminiscent of the Occupy Wall Street protests.
Director David Cronenberg adapted this film from the Don DeLillo novel, using only DeLillo’s original dialogue—to the eventual detriment of the film. While the sparse dialogue works well in the context of the novel, seen onscreen it becomes overtly abstract and off-putting, especially when it comes from Pattinson’s own mouth. He looks deeply uncomfortable in the beginning of the film, hiding behind a pair of sunglasses, speaking about himself in the plural pronoun “we,” and pretending to be an imposing figure. However, as the film digs deeper into Packer’s psyche—and his obsession with his asymmetrical prostate—Pattinson grows into his role, becoming comfortable with the distraught and soulless Packer.
Fortunately, a lot of the other actors can handle the dialogue better. Kevin Durand is a perfect cast as Packer’s bodyguard Torval. He exudes brute force and a dark sense of humor that plays well with Packer’s darker thoughts. Juliette Binoche plays the sultry Didi Fancher, Packer’s art consultant, who is also carrying on an affair with Packer in his limo. Binoche is delightful as she rolls around the floor of the limo in her underwear, discussing Rothko. Samantha Morton keeps her cool as Vija Kinsky, Packer’s chief advisor, discussing various capitalist theories while protesters shake and deface the limousine. Even Emily Hampshire—as Jane Melman, chief of finance—holds her own as she argues with Packer while he’s receiving a prostate examination by a physician (again in the confines of his own limo).
Less capable is Sarah Gadon as Packer’s wife. Her steely exterior and insanely girlish voice make her instantaneously unlikable. Not that we’re supposed to like her, but it’s hard to see what he ever saw in her other than her family’s money—something other characters are quick to assume is his motive for marrying her. They’ve been married for three weeks and still have not had sex, hence why Packer sleeps around with Didi and his bodyguard Kendra (Patricia McKenzie). Sarah seems to enjoy the marriage about as much as Packer does, again making one wonder why they even got married in the first place.
George Touliatos’ barber character is poorly executed, too, as he descends into his speech about being a cab driver. And even Paul Giamatti fails to engage as desperate assassin Benno Levin. Both characters appear at the end of the film, which begins to outstay its welcome. Giamatti’s intense and verbose monologue kills whatever momentum the film had as he slowly brings the movie to its abrupt ending.
There are many great moments in the film—both humorous and sorrowful—as we follow Packer’s quest to feel something, anything. He sleeps around, argues with his wife, and slowly descends into more violent territory, hoping to feel any form of emotion. He becomes reckless and childlike, feeling immortal. The great moments, however, fail to make up for the incredibly slow pace of the film. If ten or fifteen minutes had been cut out, it would have been a more engaging, well-paced film.
The close adaptation of the novel merely shows how difficult it truly is to adapt literature into film. Much of this adaptation feels as soulless as Packer. What feels vibrant when read on the page, fails to translate—at least on film. A stage adaptation of Cosmopolis would work much better. The confined sets and abstract discussions are akin to various great plays on the stage (it’s no coincidence that DeLillo is also a prolific playwright). A stronger actor than Pattinson, who is still very novice, would have enhanced the film as well.
Overall, the film is too dense to appeal to wide audiences, leaving only astute cinephiles and DeLillo fans to find much to enjoy in this film.
Blu-ray Bonus Features
“Citizens of Cosmopolis” is an extensive behind-the-scenes featurette exploring some of the adaptation process as well as the production process of the film. Along with a theatrical trailer are individual interviews with most of the cast, Cronenberg, and a couple of the producers. However, much of the interview footage was used in the aforementioned featurette. Lastly, there is director commentary with Cronenberg talking about his choices when adapting the screenplay and how his stylistic choices reflect the story’s themes.
"Cosmopolis" is on sale January 1, 2013 and is rated R. Drama. Directed by David Cronenberg. Written by David Cronenberg, Don DeLillo. Starring Emily Hampshire, Jay Baruchel, Juliette Binoche, Knaan, Kevin Durand, Mathieu Amalric, Paul Giamatti, Robert Pattinson, Samantha Morton, Sarah Gadon.