January 3, 2013 -- Veteran filmmaker David Cronenberg has made a lot of interesting films, sometimes in the horror and science fiction genres (“eXistenZ,” “Scanners” and “The Fly”) sometimes historical dramas (like last year's “A Dangerous Method”) but whatever he does, you can usually count on his films to be edgy and off-beat. His latest, “Cosmopolis” is no exception.
Cosmopolis is about an unbalanced billionaire's off-kilter journey from madness into chaos in a city that seems to be tearing itself apart right along with him. Although the Don DeLillo novel on which the film is based was published five years before the economic collapse of 2008, the film captures the feeling of that collapse, the Occupy Wall Street movement and the disconnect between the ultra-rich and the great masses of people.
In the early part of the film, billionaire currency trader Eric Packer (played by Robert Pattinson of the “Twilight” movies) decides it is time for a haircut from his favorite barber across town. Packer (no relation to the famed cannibal Alfred Packer?) is warned not to take the trip by his chief of security, Torval (Kevin Durand of “Real Steel”). The president of the United States is in town and there are numerous protest marches tying up traffic. Packer is used to getting what he wants. He insists, and the stretch limo rolls out on a cross-town Odyssey.
Just because he is riding in a limo doesn't mean he can't work, too. The limo is equipped with all kinds of high tech computing and communication devices and everything else needed to conduct business. Business is bad. Packer has made a ruinous bet on foreign currency. Since the traffic is in gridlock, Packer gets out of the cab several times and walks around, despite the fact there are threats against his life. He meets with his wife, played by Sarah Gadon of “A Dangerous Method.” They have been married 22 days. She tells Packer the marriage is over. No sense wasting time.
One of the reasons that Packer's wife wants a divorce is that he has been having sex with other women that same day, and she can smell it on him. The smell (maybe the smell of death) is mentioned several times in the film. Both Packer and his wife discuss their shattered marriage as if they were discussing a grocery list. The dialog in the film is odd. People talk past each other rather than engaging directly. One person asks a question. The response is not an answer, it is another question. There is a lot of esoteric talk about political and economic theories and philosophy.
Packer seems to be very low key, seldom displaying emotion, except when he finds out his favorite rapper has died. It is like he is already dead, a zombie who can't feel anything. He shoots himself in the hand, just to feel something. He also asks one of his security guards to hit him with 100,000 volts from a taser so he can feel that. As the day wears on, he becomes more and more reckless and irresponsible. He seems to care nothing for his own safety. At the same time, the rest of the city seems to be falling into chaos. There are signs of chaos in other parts of the world, too.
The story quickly goes from just plain weird to deadly all of a sudden. Packer finally meets up with a demented, broke and dangerous former employee played by Paul Giamatti of “The Ides of March.” The implication seems to be that both men, although they are at opposite ends of the economic spectrum, have ended up at the same place: So empty, so devoid of purpose, that they have no reason to continue to live.
In addition to the theme of smells, there is a rat theme as well. Packer had read of an article which cites an instance where rats are the basis of trade. A man throws rats in a restaurant protest, and giant rat replicas are part of a protest parade.
Long ago, wealthy businessmen produced goods and services. In the 2008 economic collapse, many Wall Street traders were basically engaged in trading worthless mortgage paper, a kind of Ponzi scheme. When the bubble burst, a lot of people were hurt, losing their savings, their homes, their jobs, but the bankers who caused the problem with their irresponsibility were bailed out. They were rewarded, and they are at it again.
The anger over that injustice is what powered the Tea Party movement as well as the Occupy Wall Street movement, and it powers this movie, too. Also starring in this film are Juliett Binoche, Samantha Morton and Jay Baruchel. This film rates a B.
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