I want to start with this: I usually love the work of David Cronenberg. Okay? The trouble with literary adaptations is that, what works best in a novel and what works best in a movie are seldom the same.
The two mediums are so different, their strengths and weaknesses so unique and specific-- that the old adage may be true: Some novels simply cannot be adapted into good movies. As example, I give you Cosmopolis.
The plot? Eric Packer, a frigid 28 year old billionaire-Wall Street-genius (Twilight's Robert Pattinson) rides in his pimped-out sound-proofed limousine while an assortment of characters show up, one by one to deliver self-indulgent monologues to him -- all the while, he slowly inches through New York traffic on a strange journey to get his hair cut. He listens. He muses. He smolders. That's basically it. The screenwriting strays far, far away from naturalism.
Esoteric, poetic-ish dialogue can work fine when read from a novel but, usually sounds over-written and very pretentious when said aloud. This film is full of those lengthy and overly ornate passages. Initially, I didn't fault Cronenberg himself, until I saw that he has the sole screenwriting credit on the film. I'm utterly baffled by this script. The man has made so many fantastic films, from Dead Ringers and The Fly, to more recent winners like Eastern Promises and A History of Violence.
What about his more cheerfully bizarre outings like the Burroughs adaptation Naked Lunch or the under-seen masterpiece eXistenZ? Both are dense and very weird by mainstream standards but, neither comes close to this level of indecipherability. How he got so many inspired performances from such dull material, I have no idea.
The supporting cast truly deserves credit, as every role is played with total abandon and sincerity. Particularly Juliette Binoche, Sarah Gadon (from Cronenberg's slightly superior A Dangerous Method) and Paul Giamatti, all of whom tackle their characters with a savage glee. They totally committed to their parts and obviously had fun making the film but, I still found myself irritated by the dialogue, thinking: "It sounds like they're reading from an essay." Perhaps I missed the point.
Packer, his wife (Gadon), his security guard (Lost's Kevin Durant), the throngs of anarchist protesters -- none are really 'characters' in the traditional sense and, I do not think that their roles in this world of Manhattan in the not-so-distant-future -- are meant to be taken literally.
Instead we have actors delivering carefully worded soliloquies that indulge and explore the themes that novelist Don DeLillo imbued his somewhat critically controversial novel Cosmopolis, the film's source material. Many of which examine the extreme disparity between wealth and poverty and, the emptiness and emotional solitude that Packer's money has apparently imposed on him.
Like every Cronenberg movie, it looks amazing. He is a director whose work is so consistently visually impressive; I wasn't at all surprised by the overall look. Cronenberg enjoys the juxtaposition between the new and the old. The clean and the dirty, so to speak. The protagonist's sleek white limo is gradually reduced from its ivory perfection to a graffiti covered mess. The film's overall look mirrors that of Packer's car. We begin our story in Packer's world, a gorgeous place where everything is sleek, new and top of line. By the end, we find our selves in dank, brown, grungy squalor. Such careful attention to detail is not uncharacteristic for Cronenberg but, all of this will go unnoticed to Pattinson's fan base.
How those hardcore Twilight gals will react to this movie, I shudder to think. They might be thrilled by his dashing suit and slick sunglasses at first but, when he opens his mouth I imagine many will be more than a little confused. This film is a far cry from the mainstream safety of playing a hunky, teen vampire. Despite my negativity, I do think he should be commended for making such a remarkable left turn with his career.
This is the exact type of movie a popular, young actor like Pattinson should be doing, regardless of whether a dope such as myself-- likes it or not. It's good to see his fame get attached to odd, little projects that might not get produced if such a big star were not involved. Better this curiosity, than another sappy melodrama like Remember Me.
The only lingering doubt in the back of my mind is the performance of Paul Giamatti. He is so compelling in this film -his performance so interesting- that I almost want to go back and watch it again. Could I be wrong about this film? A quick peek at Rotten Tomatoes (50%) shows that other critics have also been divided, which is understandable. Love it or hate it. But I will be the first to admit that Cronenberg is one of our greatest living filmmakers. If anyone's work deserves a second chance, it's his.
Is Cosmopolis a bad film? Well no, it's not badly made. On a technical level, it is nearly flawless. Was I entertained? Occasionally. Did I care about these characters? No, not really. But, uuuh... did I mention that I usually love the work of David Cronenberg?
Tony Hinds is a Canadian writer who studied film at the University of Winnipeg. In addition to ShowbizMonkeys.com, Tony has reviewed films for Step On Magazine and The Uniter. You can find Tony on Twitter.