Occupy Limos: Cosmopolis 

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Cosmopolis
Directed by David Cronenberg

Like some perverse case-study follow-up to A Dangerous Method, David Cronenberg’s chilling Cosmopolis visualizes the wish-fulfillment chamber of a billionaire as he seeks to totalize the world before it totals him. Converting Don DeLillo’s novel into a single-day series of pressurized stage dialogues, Cronenberg radically implements the book’s primary setting as the supercapitalist’s rarefied state made physical: within the controlled space of his limo, detached 28-year-old hedgie-level marketeer Eric Packer entertains guests, business associates, and his needs, with the outside world a troublesome construct to be gamed, mastered, and eventually broached.

Cronenberg takes the very real risk of a faceplanting folly in staging pages of DeLillo’s overknowing dialogue, in which phrases always sound quotation-marked and which too often evokes a wry exchange of professorial, Baudrillardized apercus. Elevating a slim book (like The Body Artist) that seemed a perplexing counterpart to approved 20th-century summa Underworld, Cosmopolis the movie goes from anti-cinematic all the way through to fervidly cinematic, with the same heightened sensual awareness of body and praxis as Crash or Method. Robert Pattinson, in his perfectly handsome pallor, proves a worthy vessel for this blackest of dystopian comedies and existential thought experiment, opposite a line-up of mood-resetting challenges to his focus (trysting Juliette Binoche, Jay Baruchel as a shrinking tech maven, Samantha Morton as uber-intense theorist, Mathieu Amalric as a ridiculous renegade pie-thrower).

Making a lovely pair with The Social Network, Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis takes DeLillo’s millennial oddity and realizes Packer’s obsession with the future as a death trip, painting the megawealthy’s not-like-you-or-me state of five-steps-ahead existence. When Packer is on the loose outside the limo, both his assassination-target vulnerability and android-like amoral sense of invulnerability are keenly felt. Cronenberg and DP Peter Suschitzky’s synthetically smooth look here makes Packer’s increasing excursions seem like an experimental template from Cronenberg’s misunderstood virtual-reality fantasy eXistenZ. Yet in choosing the current moment for his adaptation, Cronenberg has raised the stakes for DeLillo’s scenario: while the protests surrounding Packer appeared to reference Seattle WTO demonstrations, it’s now contemporary (like every other film) to Occupy Wall Street and the recession, though the two movements share the same battle to persuasively cast the treacherous abstractions of global finance as the root cause of day-to-day hardship.

Evidently fascinated by his source text—as much as he was with the labyrinths of Spider and Naked Lunch—Cronenberg does little halfway, strenuously dramatizing sexual encounters and a doctor’s visit (all somewhat hilariously played up in the film’s thriller-esque trailer). Packer ultimately becomes a structuring conceit; he’s not an object of sympathy (as, boo hoo, both his market-contingent fortune and heiress-poet girlfriend take their leave), or a poster boy for godlike villainy. But as Pattinson stalks about in a slick suit, curious about testing out murder, the Marxist protester cry of a “specter” seems to take a human form, and his final interlocutor—Paul Giamatti as a coolly raving wretch hidden in a raggedy towel—seems to be a face-to-face encounter with madness.

Opens August 17

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