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Blu-ray Review: David Cronenberg’s Densely Talky ‘Cosmopolis’ Confounds

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CHICAGO – Some writing sounds better on the page than it does when read aloud. That’s certainly the case with Don DeLillo’s 2003 novel, “Cosmopolis,” a spectacularly unsettling social commentary largely confined within the limo of billionaire asset manager, Eric Packer. He claims that he’s 28, but looks as if he’s been strolling the streets for centuries, while displaying all the decadent beauty of Dorian Gray.

As Packer rides at a glacial pace through his troubled metropolis, he’s visited by various people from his life—employees, associates, mistresses and his wife of 22 days. Eric appears to have absolutely no meaningful connection with any of these people as they drift in and out of his cocoon of luxury. At times, one wonders if these characters are simply figments of his imagination, embodying different aspects of his psyche. Finally, Eric comes face to face with the one person with whom he shares an intimate understanding: a deranged would-be assassin.

HollywoodChicago.com Blu-ray Rating: 3.0/5.0
Blu-ray Rating: 3.0/5.0

The densely layered conversations that occur between Eric and this colorful ensemble are marvelous to read and near-torturous to watch on film. There’s simply too much to absorb and not enough emotional depth to keep an audience fully engaged for the entirety of a two-hour running time. Director David Cronenberg freely admits in this Blu-ray disc’s sublime assortment of extras that he was so in awe of DeLillo’s dialogue that he refused to alter it one iota. His screenplay isn’t an adaptation so much as it is a transcription, and that’s a profound miscalculation. His “Cosmopolis” is so impenetrable that it demands multiple viewings, and yet doesn’t really deserve them. Aside from Paul Giamatti’s typically riveting performance as the assassin—which jolts the film to life in its last half-hour—there is very little here to engage the viewer. Cronenberg simply allows the dialogue to speak for itself, and it simply doesn’t translate well to the screen, despite the best efforts of an A-grade international cast. Looking as lifeless as Edward Cullen, Robert Pattinson does all he can with such an enigmatic role, and appears to be having a blast testing the outer limits of his abilities with a director unafraid to take risks.

Cosmopolis was released on Blu-ray and DVD on January 1st, 2013.
Cosmopolis was released on Blu-ray and DVD on January 1st, 2013.
Photo credit: Entertainment One

It’s ironic that “Cosmopolis” premiered at the Cannes Film Festival the same year as Leos Carax’s beguiling curiosity, “Holy Motors.” Both films take place over a single 24-hour period and revolve around a mysterious anti-hero who travels around town in his limo. Yet whereas Carax’s picture explored the nature of identity in exhilaratingly entertaining fashion, Cronenberg’s film tackles America’s growing economic divide (which DeLillo’s book foreshadowed) with a ponderous portentousness as transfixing as it is downright tedious.

“Cosmopolis” is presented in 1080p High Definition (with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio) and includes a splendidly thorough making-of documentary that is actually one minute longer than the film itself. Cronenberg’s collaborators note how the filmmaker has become more spare in recent years, opting for protracted shots captured in a few takes rather than a wide array of set-ups. Indeed, the director is seen telling his actors that a particular act of violence would be more shocking if it was captured in one long take. Though the city itself is identified in the set design as New York City, much of the footage was shot in Toronto, lending the metropolis a rather mythological quality. In his terrific audio commentary track, Cronenberg discusses how he wanted the world outside the limo to look oddly disconnected from the vehicle’s interiors through deliberately unconvincing green screen effects, thus further alienating Eric. Cronenberg’s own exuberance about the film is enough to motivate frustrated moviegoers to give “Cosmopolis” another shot. But perhaps it would be more worth the audience’s time to read the book instead—or at least prior to drowning in Cronenberg’s sleekly lensed onslaught of long-winded, occasionally brilliant pontifications.

‘Cosmopolis’ is released by Entertainment One and stars Robert Pattinson, Kevin Durand, Paul Giamatti, Sarah Gadon, Emily Hampshire, Juliette Binoche, Jay Baruchel, Samantha Morton and Mathieu Amalric. It was written and directed by David Cronenberg. It was released on January 1st, 2013. It is rated R.

HollywoodChicago.com staff writer Matt Fagerholm

Staff Writer

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