I’ll begin this review with two disclaimers. First, I am a huge David Cronenberg fan, so I admittedly went into Cosmopolis intent on liking it, especially after the disappointing experience that was A Dangerous Method. Second, I have not read the Don DiLillo book on which the film is based, so I have nothing to offer in terms of the quality of the adaptation.
Although Cosmopolis is a far cry form being among Cronenberg’s best films, it is an interesting and much appreciated return to form, not that I mind a director trying new things and moving in different directions. Later Cronenberg work, such as Spider or A History of Violence differ in many ways from his more visceral early works but are still wonderful films; however, A Dangerous Method feels like such an outlier that I was concerned that at this late point in his career Cronenberg may be losing his touch. Cosmopolis assuaged this fear.
Reminiscent in many ways of Videodrome and Crash, Cosmopolis renders a world mired in conspiracy and a main character with a serious death fetish. Set almost entirely in a limousine, Cosmopolis presents a similar sense of claustrophobia and isolation that comes across in many of his films. One of the more striking things about his work is there is often no sense of a larger, outside world. Things happen in the microcosm of his characters’ lives. The events of his first feature, They Came From Within, take place entirely in an apartment complex. In Spider, Cronenberg very intentionally kept the number of extras to a minimum to focus on the main character’s psychological state. eXistenZ takes place, ostensibly, in a room with just a handful of characters.
Cosmopolis inhabits a larger political realm than most of Cronenberg’s films—Eric Parker (Robert Pattinson), the main character, is facing a personal financial crisis brought on by a shift in world markets and an Occupy Wall Street-like riot attacks his limo—but the main action of the film—if we can call it action—is reduced to Parker’s car and a handful of locations. Parker is unaware of how his financial dealings impact the world around him, a clear commentary on current cultural discussions of the makers and the takers.
Cronenberg also tends toward tight time frames and Cosmopolis is no different, spanning the time it takes to drive across a traffic congested city. On the surface, the plot is no more than this: a man wants to get a haircut from a particular barber on the other side of town. In addition to the riot, the funeral procession of a famous rap star moves through the city on the same day the president arrives, so the drive takes several hours, during which various characters—most notably a stellar Samantha Morton—come and go from his limousine. The congestion is intense enough to allow Parker to pop out onto the streets on a few instances, mainly to track down his icy fiancée. In addition to his personal financial crisis, a vague and sinister, yet seemingly welcome, threat has been made against his life.
Cosmopolis is an insanely talky movie. Cronenberg allegedly lifted most of the dialog straight from the book, giving the characters hyped-up, almost Mametesque mouthfuls of words. This technique lends the film a surreal quality much inline with Parker’s dreamlike quest, which ends outside his car but in a no less isolated location in a somewhat improbable confrontation with his stalker, raising as many questions as it answers in this challenging and interesting film.