It sounds good on paper, and in theory. With Cosmopolis, the fascinating filmmaker David Cronenberg is getting back to the business of his arty-pulpy-poetic side, after flirting with the more mainstream film world in A History of Violence and Eastern Promises. For the sometimes-intriguing but also dulling Cosmopolis, Cronenberg has adapted a novel by Don DeLillo and given it cinematic form, as he did with his weirdly compelling take on Crash (the “real” Crash, from J.G. Ballard’s book, in which benumbed characters take sexual delight from car crashes).
As in Crash, with Cosmopolis Cronenberg seizes an opportunity to base his filmic vision on casual, disembodied sexuality, society verging on self-destruction, and the ever-present world of cars. Specifically, the automobile mise-en-scène is the yawning, hermetic space of a stretch limo in which our young billionaire (Robert Pattinson, showing his acting chops beyond the Twilight franchise) moves, ever-so-slowly, through Manhattan on his way to a haircut. Along the way, he gets laid and also waylaid, by a presidential visit and an anarchist uprising. Things are coming apart, inside and outside the hallowed limo. Rat-wielding doomsday radicals bellow, “A specter is haunting the world,” while our billionaire hero schemes about buying the Rothko Chapel and talking his wife into sex.
In this surreal, episodic tale, Samantha Morton and Juliette Binoche are among the intelligence wielders, and Paul Giamatti appears as a disenchanted, would-be sociopath. Spotty rewards along the way can’t save the film from its drift toward disinterest. Even so, it’s nice to see Cronenberg chasing the odd idea and scent of art again.