E1 Entertainment // 2012 // 109 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // December 25th, 2012
"Talent is more erotic when it's wasted."
David Cronenberg is a weird director. No, I'm not talking about his subject matter (though that is weird), but rather the way he has survived as a filmmaker for four full decades. He hasn't lived in the studio system as comfortably as some of his contemporaries (like Martin Scorsese), nor has he followed the independent-auteur style of someone like Steven Soderbergh who makes a Hollywood film to fund his own projects. Instead, Cronenberg's maverick visions seem to be one-off creations, whose funding is cobbled together from a variety of sources. His choice of source material is equally strange. His best films stem from self-penned screenplays and story ideas (Videodrome), while others come straight from other writers (Crash). Which brings us to Cosmopolis, Cronenberg's adaptation of Don Delillo's first post-9/11 novel, a frustrating mix of dead-pan and affecting, coal-black humor and total despair. It's an amazing film that isn't always enjoyable.
Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson, Twilight) is a 28 year old billionaire who wants to go across midtown Manhattan to get a haircut. He takes his high-tech limo that would appear to be equipped everything he needs (except a barber), but a series of increasingly absurd situations prevent the vehicle from completing its journey. In the process, Packer visits and is visited by a host of characters and muses about the state of the world.
Between Eastern Promises and A Dangerous Method, David Cronenberg reminded the world he was more than capable of providing the standard pleasures of the drama and largely curtailing his obsession with horrors of the body. Cosmopolis appears to be an almost-perverse reminder that "Baron Blood: The King of Venereal Horror" is still roaming around in there. Not that his recent film is anything like The Brood or Shivers, though an uncomfortable prostate exam might make some viewers squirm. But it does reassure audiences that his vision of our world is very skewed indeed.
For long term Cronenberg devotees, Cosmopolis offers an interesting evolution of the director's obsession. Here his focus on technology takes on decidedly economic overtones, and his cold cerebral style seems played more for laughs than in previous efforts. Most interesting is the way the film seems more expansive, referencing contemporary malaise and citations of specific figures like Rothko.
For those not particularly enamored with the director's style, Cosmopolis offers other pleasures. This is essentially an experimental film, presenting viewers with an opportunity to engage intellectually and critically with an experience that challenges our expectations of cinematic experiences. Like Packer's limo, we are thwarted on our simple narrative journey, as the film dramatizes a dark night of our soul. It's fun to watch a host of excellent actors venture far outside their comfort zone. Robert Pattinson is perfect as the icy Packer, but I was equally impressed with the jumpy Jay Baruchel, the wonderful Samantha Morton, and Paul Giamatti who manages to make the film's finale work through sheer force of personality and will.
Presented in 1.85:1/1080p high definition widescreen, Entertainment One's Blu-ray offers razor sharp detail, especially within the confines of Packer's spacious limousine. Black levels are nice and inky, as day turns to night in the narrative, and colors are bold and appropriately saturated. No compression hiccups or digital trickery mar the image. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track is similarly impressive. Dialogue is clean and clear, and composer Howard Shore's underscore is well balanced. Dynamic range is especially impressive as sound shifts from inside to outside the limo.
Bonus features kick off with a feature-length documentary that runs just shy of two hours. Using interviews and production footage, it covers all the bases from the source novel and Cronenberg's screenplay to the production itself. Thirty minutes of interviews with the cast and crew follow, including Cronenberg, Pattinson, Baruchel, Juliette Binoche, Samantha Morton, and others. The fact that there are so many interviewees means we don't get to hear as much as I'd like from some people, but it's a solid collection of insights. Finally, Cronenberg provides his always astute insights in the form of a commentary track that's a little quieter than usual but still feels natural.
If you're looking for a straight drama, everything about Cosmopolis will disappoint. Though there's a bit of an arc to the story, it's much more a series of conversations/monologues from an accomplished ensemble of actors, delivering performances which are alienating even for those (like me) who enjoyed the film. There will undoubtedly be those who object to at least some of the content. Packer lives his life out of a limousine, including his sex-capades and medical life (e.g. the aforementioned prostate exam). The film does not paint a pretty portrait of high-powered influence, and its bleakness is only broken by a subversive dark humor that laces every absurdist moment.
Cosmopolis gets my vote for the best film of 2012. It may not be the most heartwarming or the most politically engaged, but its impressive technology and the realization that those with their hands on the wheel are no better (or more sane) than you or I captures something about what it was like to live in 2012. Maybe that's a trite realization to trot out in the second decade of the 21st century, but it's one that feels appropriately fresh, alive, and conflicted in way no other films have matched.
Not Cronenberg's best, but certainly not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: E1 Entertainment
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 109 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Rated R