Cannes Film Festival 2012: Cosmopolis Review

Today has been controversial here in Cannes. Big talk currently concerns Alec Baldwin verbally assaulting Harvey Weinstein with words I won’t repeat. This morning’s Competition screening seems fitting in the circumstance and was always guaranteed to get a few spectators’ backs up and fuel some wonderfully timed walk-outs. Enter Cosmopolis – the new movie from master filmmaker and professional knife-twister David Cronenberg and one of my personal highly anticipated features of the festival. After the blues of his son’s début Antiviral a few days back, one was hoping for this picture to wash away those issues and bathe me in some warped and wonderful cinema. But did it deliver?

Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) is a twenty-something billionaire who has made his unbelievable fortune by dominating Wall Street. Riding through Manhattan in his stretch limo to get a haircut, Packer’s day is constantly interrupted by outer events that soon cause ever-growing destruction, unfathomable doubt and life-threatening encounters.

With Cosmopolis, it’s clear throughout that the picture aims to present a message and a presentation of often distressing truth; this is a commentary on our times, our financial crisis, and our overindulgence. Surely Cronenberg’s attraction to adapting the poorly received novel by Don DeLillo stemmed from this thematic structure and style.

For those expecting the explicit, hand-shooting and manic portrait the teaser trailer screened, you may feel a little deflated after watching. But if you open your eyes just a little wider, you’ll quickly realise you are witnessing filmmaking at its highest, most satirical and down-right demented quality. The picture is fuelled by existential imagery, dialogue and tones – the staggeringly slow pace of Packer’s limo is symbolic of his desire for safety, gently cocooning him in plush comfort from the horrors of the outside world, whilst his desire for ‘more from life’ is painted from his eternal boredom and isolation. It’s with these themes that Cosmopolis tremendously succeeds. Never does the audience feel sympathy or empathy with Packer, yet they know such a large amount about him and understand his complex and bizarre mind that it’s impossible not to become involved with him.

Cronenberg treads the lines superbly; the film is incredibly talky and fundamentally staged within the James Bond -esque limousine yet it’s explosively exciting, erotic and nihilistic – it’s like Crash with the screen-pacing of A Dangerous Method; a cocktail of glamour, intelligence and debauchery. Despite being a small-scale and intimate project, Cronenberg doesn’t leave his directorial flair with the valet parking staff, he makes the film a visual whirlwind of weird and wonderful. The picture heavily relies on colour and strong exhibition and Cronenberg’s camera fails to miss even a stitch of the leather upholstery – his latest is a shiny, flashy diamond enclosed in a equally flashy transportation device.

Cosmopolis is littered with extended cameos, all of which are people who affect and infect Packer’s day. Perhaps the oddest is from one of my all-time favourite actresses Juliette Binoche who has a moment involving an egg (that’s all I’ll say), but all of those worked into the story have something to offer. The dialogue deliveries are so prominent and developed that each character screens with dimension and purpose. Others who feature include Paul Giamatti, Mathieu Amalric, Jay Baruchel, and Samantha Morton who all give first-class performances.

But the film’s true driving force (excuse the pun) is Pattinson’s utterly fearless, audacious and sizzling performance. Both Twilight stars have now had films here in Cannes and both Kristen Stewart and Pattinson have given some of the festival’s strongest roles. Packer is a multi-layered, cynical, and chillingly captivating character; he’s a gritty brush-stroke of our modern day society, a itching rash that demands attending to. The world in which Packer resides in is one of disgusting wealth and luxury yet crippling doubt, paranoia, and self-loathing. Pattinson’s darkly comic and distressingly real performance here embodies everything Cosmopolis desires to express; he whispers and scuttles but his manners and aura leave a deafening echo hanging in the tainted, dystopian atmosphere.

Cronenberg’s latest will not be for everyone – it’s a slinky, scabby and repressed black dramedy that’s unobliging and unconventional – I’m sure some ‘Twihards’ will enter upon release simply for R-Patz and leave the cinema feeling either bored, bruised or baffled, but for those who enjoy challenging, alternative and uncompromising pictures, Cosmopolis is your drink of choice.

This is a seedy, engrossing and appallingly satisfying take on our economy, lifestyles and expenditures – I would love to see it bag some awards here at the festival because it whole-heartedly deserves the acclaim. The separation of opinions means it’ll thrive in the opposing hysteria. I loved every single second of this 108 minute visceral tyrant and it’s one of the best films I’ve seen all year, let alone at Cannes. Oh, and like The Paperboy, it too features a urination sequence – I’m beginning to think there might be an award for that too…

[Rating: 5]

About Chris Haydon

Chris' love affair with cinema started years ago when school teachers would moan to his parents that he spends too much time quoting and not enough working. He has a degree in Film Studies now so how do you like those apples past teachers and doubters? Despite being a romancer of all things Woody Allen, Michael Haneke and Pixar, Chris has favourite films in the majority of genres and is a complete sucker for bumbling indie types. He's also irrevocably in love with Felicity Jones and Jennifer Lawrence - so basically he wishes he was Anton Yelchin in 'Like Crazy'...
  • Whitbysucks

    I am a “Twihard”. I also adore cinema. I am a very grateful Canadian who lives near Toronto and had the privilege to see an evening of filming of Cosmopolis last summer. Being a fan of Robert Pattinson I was happy to see him working and up close. Being a fan of cinema, I was able to watch David Cronenberg’s vision at work. Don Dellio’s book was extrodinary I can’t wait to see the translation to screen.

  • Chris Haydon

    Thanks so much for the comment – I too am a ‘Twihard’ but I fear some may not be aware of what they are getting into with Cosmopolis. Still, it’s a staggering work and both Pattinson and Stewart have given incredible performances here in Cannes.