The first tip-off for what I had in store in going to see David Cronenberg’s filmed take on the Don DeLillo novel Cosmopolis should have come from the reviews I skimmed through before going to see the movie. Reading reviews isn’t something I normally do before going to see a movie, but in this case I wasn’t sure about going to see it, so I hit metacritic.com to get a feel. To say reviews were mixed doesn’t really do the lay of the critical land justice. Reviews weren’t so much mixed as polarized. And having now seen the movie, I probably should have paid much more attention to the fact that even in the reviews that loved the movie, there was little to no mention of plot.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a good metaphorical, atmospheric film as much as the next guy (or gal). Truth be told, I’d much rather see something that isn’t laid out in a point A to point B, paint by numbers fashion. Of course, one of the ironies of all this is that if you were to lay out the basic plot of Cosmopolis, you’d say it’s more or less about a billionaire who drives very, very slowly, literally from point A (his office) to point B (a barbershop). So, there you go. During the ride, the young tycoon (Robert Pattinson) loses all his money, has breakfast and lunch and dinner with his wife before he loses her, too, has sex with a couple of other ladies, has a prostate exam in his limo while talking to a female employee, among other plot devices. All this before the story climaxes with a scenery chewing, gerbil like Paul Giamatti spending the last 20 or 30 minutes of the movie delivering a rambling dialogue to Pattinson’s face about how Giamatti is going to kill Pattinson.
Looks good on paper, right? Not so much.
I’ll first say that Cosmopolis is the first film in a long, long, long time that I’ve been to where people actually walked out. Honestly, I can’t even name the last movie I’ve seen where this happened. In the screening I saw, there were about 20 people in the theater at the beginning of the movie. I counted six that left. They didn’t leave with any ill will, it didn’t seem. They weren’t cursing and throwing up their hands. But the constant, almost badgering, banal dialogue just did them in. It was like they were running a marathon they were completely determined to finish, just couldn’t make it, and sort of stumbled off the course. Or maybe more like one of those marathon dance competitions you hear about from the past. People were just dropping, one by one, until there were only a few of us left standing.
After the movie, as I was processing the handful of things I liked about it, and trying to tell myself that it’s good that directors are at least still allowed to try to make movies that take a shot at little more than the usual, a couple approached me. “We’ve identified you as a guy that looks like he might be able to tell us what we just saw,” the woman said. I just sort of laughed and told her what I had just been thinking. “I guess it’s good, in general, that material like that can get green lit,” I said. “I’m just not so sure that it’s good that that particular movie got the green light.” The woman than asked me again what the heck the point of it all was.
I was going to leave, but the woman just kept asking me what the movie was supposed to be about. She seemed genuinely shaken, like she just wanted to make sure she wasn’t oblivious to some great revelation. So, I sat with her and her husband for a few minutes talking about what I thought the movie was trying to say, regardless of if it was any good or not. Finally, the woman just kind of shook her head, said something like, “I guess it was trying to say something”, and she and her husband stumbled into the night with the rest of the Cosmopolis victims.
Going back to some of the reviews I read before seeing the movie, I should have run as far away as I could when several reviewers mentioned that the Don DeLillo novel the movie is based on had largely been considered unfilmable. Maybe that’s the case. The sad thing is that Robert Pattinson, probably the last reason I was going to see the movie, was the best thing about it. Pattinson’s presence and charisma in a role that required him to act devoid of any discernible outward emotion or empathetic feeling for, really, anything held the whole movie, such as it was, together. You can argue that Pattinson was playing nothing less than a corporate vampire, but that would be too simple. I look forward to seeing where his career goes next. At the very least, he’s obviously ambitious enough to try things that are potentially interesting, even if they don’t pan out.
On paper, Cosmopolis looked like a pretty promising experiment. David Cronenberg putting together a socially conscious, psychological horror piece about the emptiness of the modern, capitalism obsessed world seemed almost can’t miss. But miss it does. A worthy miss and, certainly, I’m glad that we haven’t devolved so much into formula and big budgets and sequels that ambitious directors can’t take big swings like this. Too bad this one was a whiff.