David Cronenberg knows how to create a universe. Even when adapting his films from novels, there is never a doubt as to ownership of the film. Cosmopolis is an adaptation twice over, working with the premise of Don DeLillo’s 2003 novel Cosmopolis and the more rigid structure of Homer’s The Odyssey.
Eric Packer is worth so much money that he can’t even tell you how much money he has. He travels Manhattan in an almost sound proof stretch limousine stocked with the latest technology available. All Packer wants to do is get a haircut on the other side of the New York City. It just happens to be the day that his risky investment against the Yuan will falter.
Leave it to Cronenberg to create a tight thriller that takes place almost entirely inside of a car. The claustrophobic environment ramps up the tension as one person after another enters Packer’s mobile office to discuss what he can do to salvage his investment company. Packer does leave the car to pursue his wife, but they always wind up in a tight corner of a diner or bookstore. It forces the focus on Packer and his scene partner no matter the circumstances.
There is not one weak link in this cast. Robert Pattinson proves himself a strong talent with his laser focused Eric Packer. Kevin Durand steals every scene he’s in with his dry and brutal turn as the head of Packer’s security team. Samantha Morton gets the longest series of monologues in the film as Packer’s Chief of Theory, actually forcing you to pay attention to her alone as Times Square devolves into a violent mob scene. Sarah Gordon proves Packer’s strongest foe and only true intellectual equal as his new wife. Juliette Binoche, Paul Giammati, and Mathieu Almaric also give fantastic performances. No one overpowers anyone else in a scene as the essence of Eric Packer is an ability to observe and adapt no matter the circumstances.
This character will, unfortunately, be a flaw for many film goers. While Cronenberg’s satire and dry wit run strong through the film, the tone is very fluid. The structure of the film is intentionally repetitive and built almost entirely around two person scenes. The confined locations and submissive presence of Packer can give the impression that Cosmopolis is aimless or dull. It’s not.
The only real flaw in Cosmopolis is that Cronenberg fully embraced the creation of very strange, neurotic, and laser focused characters. You don’t become as wealthy and powerful as most of the characters by having an easy going attitude and a general sense of knowledge. If you want to be the Chief of Theory for the largest financial company in the world, you better be able to speak that language fluently; if you want to run the largest financial company in the world, you better be fluent in all the business languages. This is not an affected presentation or something better suited to the stage. This is a film that willingly subverts the visual structure of cinema while grounding itself in the narrative structure of a more traditional film.
That narrative structure comes from The Odyssey. While DeLillo’s novel provides the plot and characters, Homer’s epic provides the direction they take. Each of these one on one encounters roughly corresponds to a chapter of the poem. It’s not always the clearest narrative link, but the encounters usually tackle the same thematic concern in some way. The only difference here is that Packer’s goal is a trip to the barbershop, not a return to his lovely young wife.
Cosmopolis is weird. It’s Cronenberg weird, something I haven’t been comfortable labeling his work since A History of Violence. Even then, it’s a psychological spin on his more aggressive body horror that refuses to give the audience any satisfaction when the infatuation with the body manifests itself onscreen. Cosmopolis is an epic you won’t soon forget no matter how much you might want to. It will slap you repeatedly and make you beg for more.
Thoughts on Cosmopolis? There are just a few too many loose ends for me to go with a perfect rating. So much is so tight that the few unexplored moments pull away from the impact just a hair. Share your thoughts below.