Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012

Limo Ride to Nowhere

Twilight’s Robert Pattinson circles around Cosmopolis

By David Luhrssen
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  At the center of director David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis is the despicable Wall Street hedge manager-global wheeler-dealer, Eric Parker (Twilight’s David Pattinson). As if his hubris isn’t armor enough, this pallid young man (who seldom glimpses daylight) cruises Manhattan in a gleaming white stretch limo, bullet proof and lined with cork like Proust’s bedroom to shut out the sound of the outside world. At a touch of a button, and his limo is rigged with many pushbuttons, the windows go dark. Cosmopolis is a bad man’s Odyssey as Parker sets forth from his corporate tower (“The Complex”) for a haircut. It turns out to be a long ride, what with a presidential visit (“We don’t care,” Parker announces when told this) along with the funeral procession of a rap star, a flood from a broken water main and a riot by an Occupy mob.

 

Based on the novel by Don DeLillo, Cosmopolis is written and staged a little like a 1930s Clifford Odets play for the Group Theatre with lofty dialogue and grand dramatic gestures meant to convey the agony of the working class and the arrogance of their exploiters. Another reference is Alexander Mackendrick’s classic film Sweet Smell of Success; Pattinson channels Burt Lancaster’s character, the maniacal media tycoon J.J. Hunsecker with his clipped aphorisms, instant put-downs and power-mad superiority. Problem: Parker isn’t as interesting or fully imagined as Hunsecker and Pattinson’s acting isn’t anywhere near Lancaster’s.

 

As a result, Cosmopolis feels like a long movie even though it falls below two hours. Parker is just too dead to sustain much interest, a pity, since he encounters many interesting things along the way, including people (whom he regards as things). Regardless of his enormous power, he’s reckless, and despite his arrogance, he’s anxious. Parker confers in his limo with no less than two young tech geeks whose iPad tap-tapping is meant to reassure him that “our systems are secure—impenetrable.” Even as he worries that his scheme of betting against Chinese currency will sink his incalculable fortune down a hole with no bottom, he demands that his art consultant-mistress (Juliette Binoche) purchase the Rothko chapel, even though it can’t possibly be for sale. The chapel “belongs to the world,” she says. “It’s mine if I buy it,” he insists, sketching out his plan to reassemble the structure with its painted panels in his apartment.

 

Parker’s bodyguard warns of “credible threats” on his life and the assassination of the International Monetary Fund chief on live TV injects a note of apprehension, but the financier drives on unperturbed, emerging from his limo for sex with strangers and to meet his cool-as-an-oyster trophy wife (Sarah Gadon), a daughter of old money with a vestige of propriety. “You’re a dangerous person,” she decides. “You acquire information and turn it into something stupendous and awful.” She’s not impressed; undoubtedly, the lawyers will soon work out a settlement.

 

The rat is Cosmopolis’ recurring image and theme, highlighting Parker’s character and eliciting a rare moment of humor from the financier when he speculates about a world where the rat is a unit of currency. The anarchists who pursue him wave dead rats and hurl a huge rodent effigy onto his limo. And yet, there is a glimmer of recognition in his narrow eyes that predatory capitalists and berserker anarchists share at least one idea: the future will be created through the destruction of the present.

 

Attentive viewers will notice a ragged man resembling the great character actor Paul Giamatti in an early crowd scene. He emerges from the shadows at Cosmopolis’ climax, a disgruntled ex-employee of Parker Investments whose idea of downsizing involves thinning the ranks of those who gamble with the lives of others as if people were Monopoly chips.

 

Cosmopolis is out Jan. 1 on Blu-ray and DVD.

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