for every cronenbergian devotee banking on a lurid, batshit return to form following his chatty and staid period drama a dangerous method, i can imagine as many exiting david cronenberg’s cosmopolis with similar deflated exhalation to the last; a picture possibly even more talky and cerebral than the former, even whilst boasting a heftier ratio of off-kilter spins and squeamish jolts. if a dangerous method felt for most like a rather soft unpacking of the core themes of his canon, or just a bunch of old white dudes sitting round talking about them, it only really failed for me in finding a dynamic style or narrative thrust to match that central thematic discussion. this is where cosmopolis accomplishes something quite brilliant; a cold, sheeny, and disconcerting thriller that’s always equally in service of propping up its own intellectual rigor.
the inevitable meaninglessness of excess has already been heavily documented across the medium, and thus, cronenberg’s adaptation of don delillo’s offbeat capitalist satire observes the void with a greater psychological specificity; a monologuing, philosophizing slow-drive through the ego of empire that’s equal parts hilarious stylization and cold criticism. that robert pattinson’s young billionaire eric packer ‘has it all’ virtually goes without saying; a chip of characterization that extends beyond mere attainment of capital (the fact most of the picture takes place in the rear of a futuristic limo is enough of a visual indicator for that) and wires itself into the way packer speaks and thinks, with his kingdom of authority as much an intellectual spread as economic.
mapped in an episodic series of conversations (each with its own pattinson-upping cameo) to accompany the noble quest of one man trying to get a haircut, cosmopolis follows packer’s freefall initiated by way of his own financial fuck-up; one lending him a “freedom he’s never known”, but a descent no less filtered through the hubris of his historic wealth. in the film’s gripping twenty minute closing duel, paul giamatti’s towel-clad vigilante will compare packer to the mythological icarus, with the notable point of difference being the loud, flailing way that he plummets. indeed, it’s a defining observation of our subject, epitomized in the same sequence by the stigmatic symbolism of firing a pistol through his own hand, which is particularily telling of his lofty, bloated perception toward this self-imposed, distantly-public crucification.
cosmopolis is a faithful translation of delillo’s source material; dense and crackling, with so many stand-out, summating lines, to the point where individual significance ultimately finds itself lost in sheer frequency. but eventually, as with most of cronenberg’s work, the greater effect is largely sensory; the cool, blue glow of packer’s car, the sticky, dried cream in his hair, the brief splashes of violence. whether repeat viewings would allow a deeper digestion of its tangling ideas, or reveal a semi-pretentious artificiality isn’t a question i’d really be bothered with, as most of delillo’s scathing skewering of capitalist empire is right there in packer’s spiraling trajectory and cronenberg’s sharp hand for chilly atmosphere. it’s a rhetoric as rich as it is essentially empty, but given the morality, the sanity and inevitably, the bank account of our stony-faced protagonist, perhaps that’s all precisely the point.