Cosmopolis

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Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 
  Cosmopolis
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Laura Clifford 

It is just another day in the big city for 28-year old multi-billionaire Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) as he rides across Manhattan in his uber-stretch limo to get a haircut. But there is danger lurking with the Rat People protesting against the one-percenters and riots breaking out in the streets of New York. For Eric, on this day business is not as usual in “Cosmopolis.”

Robin:
David Cronenberg, in his earlier days as a filmmaker, was best known for his offbeat horror tales like “The Brood,” the remake of “The Fly,” and “Dead Ringers.” Then he branched out his talents in different directions, resulting in “Naked Lunch,”  “Crash,” and “A Dangerous Method.” His latest, which takes place mostly in the back of Packer’s cavernous stretch, showcases his star Pattinson – the reason I was reluctant to see “Cosmopolis.” To my surprise, the “Twilight” thespian is the best thing in “Cosmopolis.”

I have never been a fan of Robert Pattinson. I dreaded all of the “Twilight” movies (only in part because of Pattinson) and have not developed a great deal of respect for the actor, “Water for Elephants” notwithstanding. Director Cronenberg elicits a good performance from the young actor, one that actually overshadows the film itself.

The film, with Cronenberg and writer Don DeLillo adapting DeLillo’s literary work, is a confined effort, even when Eric leaves his vehicle for a bite to eat or get his haircut. Packer is visited on the road by a variety of people from his art advisor and mistress Didi (Juliette Binoche), his doctor for his daily physical (including prostrate exam while discussing business with his sister Jane (Emily Hampshire)), his money-philosopher and chief of theory (Samantha Morton) and his old-money rich fiancée Elise (Sarah Gordon). This makes the film a series of vignettes tied together by violent events taking place outside of the limo. This breaks up any coherence in the film as Eric spirals downward, going from master of the universe to sitting in a squalid apartment with a gun at his head.

Cronenberg uses sound effectively, eschewing the use of ambient noise in Eric’s soundproof limousine, so oftentimes just the dialog is heard. This focuses attention on the dialog and this is a hit or miss proposition, depending on who is in the car. One character that is very useful (and interesting) is Eric’s head of security, Toval (Kevin Duran). While others enter and leave the car, Toval is always there to advise Eric on the safety of his trek – the streets are ablaze and several huge events possess the city like the visit by the President and the huge funeral procession for a famous and beloved rapper (and personal friend of Eric’s). I liked this journey through hell aspect of “Cosmopolis.” It helps smooth out the often disjointed vignettes.

This is the kind of film that you watch and form an immediate opinion – liked Pattinson, not the film. Afterward, if you reflect on the elements of “Cosmopolis,” though, it has some very intriguing ideas and concepts. If you are a fan of David Cronenberg, you should include it in things to watch list. I give it a B.  I give the Blu-Ray a B+.

The Blu-ray:

David Cronenberg marched down his own, unique road earlier this year with his Robert Pattinson starrer “Cosmopolis,” which takes place mostly within the confines of the main character, 28-year old billionaire Eric Parker’s, limousine. It is a journey through a New York that has become a hell because of the wheeling and dealings of such Masters of the Universe as Eric.

The film is now in release in Blu-ray/DVD and the extras package is, like the film, a unique cinema experience, especially for the filmmaker’s fans. There are only a couple of extras – Cronenberg’s voice over narration of the film and a “making of” feature – but do not let that fool you. While David Cronenberg is not the most energetic of narrators, his obvious depth of involvement in all aspects of the film comes through as he talks about the use of special effects, green screen and his actors and it makes for a solid companion to the film.

The “making of” feature is just that – a full length documentary about how the film was made, the nuts and bolts of cinematic illusion, the technology behind green screen and much more. I have never seen such an extensive, in-depth analysis of a construction of one man’s vision to make a movie.

This combination of extra materials makes the “Cosmopolis” a must to see for David Cronenberg fans. I give the Blu-ray/DVD package a B+.

Laura:
One fine day, against the advice of his security guard Torval (Kevin Durand, "I Am Number Four," "Real Steel"), 28 year-old billionaire asset manager Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson, "Twilight") decides to take his limousine across Manhattan to get a haircut from his dad's old barber Anthony (George Touliatos, "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants"). This master of the Universe will take a personal lesson from Capitalism as he self destructs to make way for the future in "Cosmopolis."

Writer/director David Cronenberg ("A Dangerous Method") gets back to the surreal literary days of "Crash" and "Naked Lunch" with his adaptation of the weirdly prescient 2003 Don DeLillo novel.  The director has also pushed his star Robert Pattinson out on a ledge past his own acting insecurities, getting Pattinson's most confident performance to date.  Like much of Cronenberg's earlier works, this highly stylized head trip is obsessed with the human body and technology, but this time the two remain separate entities, at least in a literal sense.

Even though Eric Packer's high-tech outfitted ride is a stand in for his own brain, his words, and those of all the characters who enter his consciousness, have been taken from DeLillo's novel.  These are highly stylized speeches, individual intellectual discourses on such topics as technology, art, commerce, sex and securities, interspersed with banal observations on the banal and resemble nothing like natural dialogue.  The effect is disorienting, and, combined with Eric's complete disassociation with everyday realities, chilly.  And yet, Cronenberg has crafted his film with such care that we feel like we're floating along in a bubble, stepping from one to another, ever downwards, as the hellishness of the rioting streets of New York reach up to consume Eric.

Eric's encounters aren't all noteworthy, and the actors who play these individuals have varying degrees of success with the language, much of it delivered in a hypnotic drone.  Early visits include Shiner (Jay Baruchel, "Goon"), Packer's technology guru, and Michael Chin (Philip Nozuka) advising on foreign market speculation, both representing the young hotshots who are coming up, Eric no longer the youngest boy wonder in the room.  Juliette Binoche ("Certified Copy") is Eric's art dealer who enjoys a back seat tumble, then is thrown a curve when Packer tells her the Rothko she's located isn't enough - he wants Rothko's Chapel, which is not for sale.  He plans to reinstall it 'in his apartment,' bringing the outside in without allowing the true outside to come in.  Didi is one of two characters we are pointedly told are forty-one, meaning...who knows, exactly, except the second one will be the last Eric sees this fateful day.

One of the film's most outrageous scenes involves Eric getting a prostate exam while talking to his financial advisor Jane Melman (Emily Hampshire, "Snow Cake").  Packer is a case of serious contradictions - a man inordinately proud of his low body fat index who has physical checkups every single day, but one who tells his new wife, rich socialite poet Elise Shifrin (Sarah Gadon, "A Dangerous Method"), that he'd like to eat something 'thick and chewy' at the first of their three meals together.  He also has seemingly little regard for his personal safety when it becomes apparent that there is a sniper out there with a bullet with his name on it.  He is bothered by the pronouncement that his prostate is 'asymmetrical,' yet leaves Anthony's with only one side of his hair cut.  Eric is also sex-obsessed (he tells Jane their conversation is full of 'sexual tension' and later beds one of his security guards in a hotel room), yet seemingly has not yet convinced Elise to consummate their marriage.  'You reak of sex,' she says with distrust and disgust at both their second and final meals.

As the day grows old, rioters holding rats aloft begin to attack and deface Eric's limo.  His 'chief of theory' (Samantha Morton, "The Messenger," giving the film's most robotic delivery) explains how the anti-Capitalists are a part of its very cycle, their distrust of technology and the future destroying it to build anew.  In a comic moment, Packer is attacked by an infamous 'pastry assassin' (Mathieu Amalric, "Quantum of Solace") with a lot on is mind.   He convinces his driver to leave him off in the district where NYC's limos go when no one is riding them.  In the dilapidated warehouse district, he traces a shot to the ramshackle abode of Richard Sheets (Paul Giamatti, "Barney's Version"), a former employee who has redubbed himself Benno Levin and claims that killing Eric is the only thing that will give his life meaning now.  Pattinson and Giamatti share a twenty minute plus scene which is the very heart of the film, the end of Eric's journey.

Cronenberg worked with digital technology for the first time here, shooting his 11 piece breakaway limo against green screen, and has achieved an otherworldly effect.  There is sci-fi and there is Cronenberg sci-fi and here he has reached his pinnacle with his hallucinatory, hypnotic trip.  We are in Cronenberg's bubble until he lets it burst.

B+

The Blu-ray:

"Cosmopolis" on Blu-ray is a lovely thing indeed.  Firstly, this is a film that deserves to be seen more than once and watching it a second time with director David Cronenberg's audio commentary just had me itching to watch the film itself again.  Cronenberg may not be the wittiest commentator on his own work, but he is generous talking about why certain decisions were made and how they were arrived at, right down to his opening and closing credit sequences (inspired by Jackson Pollack and Rothko to represent Eric Parker's character arc).  Cronenberg is clearly thrilled with his star Robert Pattinson's performance and it's quite interesting to watch again without the dialogue.  It's surprising to learn that the director was surprised when he learned from Paul Giamatti what his character motivation for Benno was.  It's also great fun to listen to why he decided on a short lens for closeups and just how he and his actors choreograph a scene.

But the commentary is just a warmup for the real meat of the Blu-ray's special features, 'Citizens of Cosmopolis.'  That title is a bit of a misnomer because although almost every major supporting player gets his or her spotlight, this is really an extremely in depth making of featurette - it's practically as long as the film itself and every bit as engrossing.  Not only do we hear from the actors, but the technical aspects are treated as characters as well.  We also get a good feel for a Cronenberg set, which feels akin to a love in and learn that most of his crew have been with him for a long, long time yet remain fresh together by diverging on other projects.  Quite a bit of time is given to the difficulties of shooting in the breakaway limo (Cronenberg had his crew watch "Das Boat" and "Lebanon") and a real appreciation for what Samantha Morton had to accomplish during the riot scene grows. Many blu-ray and DVD releases lately have been skimping on extra material, but this feature is like the film school content so prized back in the old laserdisc days.  The disc also features the usual scene selection and audio/subtitling options as well as the theatrical trailer.

If there is a criticism to be made about this disc it is in repetition.  A second feature, 'Interviews with Cast and Crew' is merely filler, soundbites which we've seen in the longer feature (at least I have to assume so - after almost 4 hours with the commentary and Citizens features, after about 10 minutes of repeated interview clips I bailed).

A-
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