Upon waking up one morning, Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson), a 29-year-old businessman, decides he needs a haircut. Riding in his white limousine through the streets and suburbs of New York City, Eric comes into contact with all manner of commodities, not least his own innately fractured mind, leading to contemplation, suspense and destruction.
Adapted by writer and director David Cronenberg from Don DeLillo’s divisive novel, Cosmopolis is an introspective, effusive affair about Eric’s own wavering psychological state, a narrative hinging on his journey from one point to another and the destruction of civilisation that’s happening outside the limousine’s contained static atmosphere. The film is concerned with those inscrutable questions we ask ourselves and activities we partake in to make us feel like effectual beings.
While some of the situations that crop up feel completely implausible and inconsequential (the whole sub-plot concerning the “rat” protestors is incredibly jarring), the fact that Cronenberg keeps us within Eric’s viewpoint for every last minute of the eventful limousine ride makes everything he does and says, whether it be big or small, feel entirely relevant to who he is as a person, and what he needs to do to remain inside the metaphorical force-field he’s encased himself within.
It may be an approach that alienates many viewers and, due to its overly conversational style, is only sporadically engaging at best, but there’s no denying it strikes an underlying, sometimes uncomfortable chord in the way it mirrors current society and the people and inventions that once meant something, for example computers, are now finding their definition and place within the grand scheme of things irrelevant. Not only does it force you to experience the world from someone else’s point-of-view, but it also makes you, whether you want to or not, ruminate on some big questions surrounding the place we hold within society, and how everything we do effects that.
It would be an understatement to say that Cosmopolis’ weight lands at the feet of Pattinson, with the supporting players merely reduced to sums of their own parts, to on and off success – Juliette Binoche and Paul Giamattia perhaps being the only two that make a lasting impression with their characters. In terms of Pattinson, he succeeds to an extent in capturing the elusiveness of Eric, all the while accurately portraying a man lost in his own constantly changing state of mind. It’s a performance that, while never being particularly challenging, at least allows him the opportunity to showcase his raw talents in a way that’s never been seen before.
Cosmopolis will push and pull you in all manner of different directions but, mostly due to the fact it never sticks to one concept for longer than a blink of an eye, it doesn’t pack the emotional punch required to have a deep-rooted impression, nor does it ever account for its overlong running time or excuse the feel it has of being cut straight from DeLillo’s source material without any excisions. It may be laden with interesting ideas and an unnerving social commentary, but through its atypical executions feels far too week and emotionless for its own good.