Genre: Ensemble Drama.
Starring: Robert Pattinson, Sarah Gadon, Kevin Durand, Juliette Binoche, Samantha Morton, Mathieu Amalric and Paul Giamatti.
Running Time: 109 mins approx.
Seen At: Didsbury.
On: Thursday, June 28th, 2012.
Film Festival season is booming round the globe at the moment. Not only did this premiere in Cannes, strewn alongside a flurry of auteur’s such as Wes Anderson and Micheal Hanake in the spring of this year, The Venice and Toronto Film Festivals are also currently well underway simultaneously, again both with a distinct, auteur-lead feel, with new features from the likes of Terence Malick with To The Wonder, (where he radically cut a large proportion of his starry cast out of the film), the controversial drama The Reluctant Fundamentalist and of course, the long awaited collaboration between Phillip Seymour-Hoffman, and Paul-Thomas Anderson in the seemingly exceptional human epic, The Master, with the press applauding stars and director with a glowing reception in Venice. Over in Toronto, a tantalizing programme is showing, including opening with the blistering re-teaming of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and director Rian Johnson, who follow up Brick with the outstanding futuristic sci-fi thriller, Looper.
But what with Sundance, Raindance, Screenplay, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Cannes, Venice, Toronto and the forthcoming London Film Festivals well on its way later as we progress ever further into the autumn months, it thankfully means there are a lot of festivals at which to showcase the films and their makers, with often what is, a much-increased sense of A-List pulling-power behind them in the last four years or so, compared to previously.
What some are dubbing: ‘perhaps the strangest film you’ll ever see’, marks the second film of the year, (and incidentally the second film in my Top Ten of 2012), from the visionary mind of director David Cronenberg. Already thrilling us at last year’s Venice ceremony, and in what was a rather limited release here in February, with A Dangerous Method, a simply stunning study of the doomed triangle of Freud, Jung, Keria Knightley’s impeccably-played troubled patient, and the birth of psychoanalysis.
He switches from restrictive period repression to a mind-anesthetically dream-like near present-day, with a deceptively simple premise. Almost all of the intriguingly-titled Cosmopolis, based on the existential novel by Don Delillo, takes place within the ultra-modern, claustrophobic confines of a plush, slick and sleek personal limousine. It’s the transport of choice for our rather antagonistic protagonist, Manhattan’s Eric Packer, a superficial, breathtakingly materialistic billionaire orphaned, stock-commodities entrepreneur.
What starts off a normal day’s drive to the barbershop demanding to his driver his desire for a haircut, soon turns into a nightmarish implosion of the economy, the city and Packer’s safety.
Along the way, his journey ‘cross-town’ is punctuated by the arrival in the limo of several, familiarly-faced key figures in his daily, (and notably) love, life. There’s his lover (a darkly demure, bitterly acerbically-tongued Juliette Binoche), once again reaffirming a trend I’ve recently noticed with her roles – appearing rather innocent at first glace, but harboring this dangerous, vengeful, femme-fatale-esque resentment – Damage, or more recently Anthony Minghella’s Breaking and Entering are each a case in point). Cue several steamy scenes, pounding with a sexually-charged energy.
His number-crunching analyst is played with straight-laced stoicism by the ever-captivating Samantha Morton – and there’s also his icy-glacial wife (Sarah Gadon) among others.
My favourite character is one with possibly the best character-name ever: The Pastry Assassin, played with a suitably manic enthusiasm by Quantum Of Solace’s villain Mathieu Almaric. Essentially, his character goes round throwing custard pies in the faces of people of great influence, namely politicians, presidents or celebrities, a sort of anarchic equivalent of ‘You’ve been Tangoed’! It’s a fun conceit and messily memorable moment.
It’s fascinating to think just how topically-minded both Don Delillo and Cronenberg are with this project. Written well before financial cataclysmia froze us all out, this is an absolutely gripping, timely, almost cautionary allegory on events present and future. It’s littered rebelliously with a stark, bold images, and there’s a method of subtle precision to its abstractness.
There’s an almost synthetic quality to the purple-hued cityscape backdrop as the luxury metallic prison, full of fluorescent optics, plummeting stock graphs literally crumbling in Eric’s amorally selfish grasp, and liquid plasma screens, hums Eric silently along riotous New York streets.
Despite initially appearing cerebral, this is quite the opposite, evoking a teasingly edgy, ominous sense of encroaching, foreboding danger sometimes, literally just ‘around the next corner’. As the threat against Eric increases, it goes in tandem with our dreaded sense of anticipation for the inevitability of its final confrontation. It’s one that leads to what is one of the most disconcerting film climaxes for some time, thanks to a creepy Paul Giamatti as a fixated ex-employee.
But the film really belongs to Robert Pattinson in the central and very difficult role as the, initially at least, extremely unsympathetic role as Eric, driven by a purely superficial, almost megalomaniac sense of greed.
Pattinson’s teen-vampire Twilight days are far behind him. This is a simply a brilliantly nuanced performance, his mesmeric features the epitome of poise, as Eric’s self-assurance erodes away his soul. Surely he’s in win a chance for a nominee for Best Actor in February? Sinewy, measured, calculating and colder than the Arctic Circle, it’s an achievement that Pattinson encompasses all this, while not making him any less captivating at the same time.
There’s really not much to criticize about this experience. What could have so easily been a risky, languid leaden-heavy film, just by its very nature, is, instead both a gripping visual metaphor for our time, and a master-class in artistic prowess. All the flare which is now a customary expectation from Cronenberg is present in an abundance of originality – whether it’s the low-level sterility of the cinematography, or the telling gaps in between dialogue, which often tell the audience more than the characters do.
In terms of dialogue, one of its more striking features is that, as those who’ve read the novel will be aware, its inhabitants communicate completely within their own seemingly innocuous lexicon, frequently repeating barbs such as: ‘You know this’. It can be initially off-putting if you’re unfamiliar with the novel, but it soon becomes, if never easy, a little more usual as the film progresses, in its own ingeniously episodic structure.
One element worth noting, is that those very examples of dialogue, are often directly extracted from the source material word for word. In that respect, it is a faithful adaptation, but can seem a little too on-the-nose if, as I did, you’ve read the novel beforehand.
What makes this truly exceptional however, is the unique quality its premise possesses. I can’t think of a film drama, which executes the form of setting itself almost exclusively in one location, quite so well. Roman Polanski’s brilliant Carnage managed it to acidic comic effect, but the dynamics of that firework-ensemble are entirely differently handled, compared to this, periodically put together concept, whereby different characters enter and exit the limousine in turns. I admire greatly the theatricality which that both demands, and delivers with a certain clinical flourish, somewhat reminiscent of one of my favourite plays, albeit in another time and location - Stephen Daldry’s similarly daring revival of An Inspector Calls. Both projects regardless of their medium, not only astound the eye, but also force us to conduct a moral examination of our hearts and souls, as well as our roles within the greater consciousness.
This is a supremely daring, occasionally violent alert of the senses: (towards the end, there’s a startlingly realistic bullet-through-the-hand shot), and an ending so open (or closed), it’ll play on you for weeks afterwards. Cronenberg continues an eclectic display of skill across a versatile selection of genres.
A haunting, darkly triumphant masterpiece, with a fantastic performance from Pattinson.
One of year’s most original pieces of work – as well as one of the most memorably impressive.
Rating: * * * * *