It is not the greatest of times to release a movie about a young attractive billionaire who mopes about the meaning of life and the things money can’t buy. It is not that the protagonist is unlikeable in Cosmopolis, David Cronenberg’s dark drama about emptiness and misery in an increasingly-populated world, it’s that he is completely listless, evoking no emotion and thus earning no interest from anyone watching his fate unfold.
Cronenberg chose Robert Pattinson to assume a most crucial role, that of Eric Packer, and thus their fates on this film are inextricably linked. The eccentric Packer wants a haircut, and only a haircut. Unfortunately, the barber is across town. Set in New York City, shot in Toronto, Packer is driven in his high tech limo through the city to his destination, along the way dealing with business meetings, liaisons, and a city devolving into chaos.
What starts off as a promising scenario, ripe for intrigue and entertainment, ends up being a little more than a series of insufferable conversations among friends, lovers, and colleagues. It is certainly meant to be more meaningful than it is, but when confronted with, for example his health issues or company concerns, Packer’s responses are less thoughtful and more confrontational just for the sake of being confrontational.
His visitors include a miscast Jay Baruchel as an employee, an apt Kevin Durand as the tempered and alert security guard, and Juliette Binoche, one of the few characters not reduced to simple phrases or lines. She is wise and in control, and Packer’s lover, but a stark contrast to him. Her scene is much too short, however. The rest of his visitors talk in the same odd language, in the same tone, offering words of warning to the jilted playboy, asking questions grand and esoteric.
Aside from Binoche, the two best actors, and thus encounters, happen at the end of the film. Mathieu Amalric makes an appearance as a jester of sorts, perhaps a Shakespearean foil to the self-serious Packer. The boy billionaire later encounters a disgruntled Paul Giamatti, the best part of the film and a character that instantly reaches a level more compelling that Packer does throughout the entire film.
And that there is the downfall, as it all comes back to our lead. His intelligence, success, and money seem too much for him to handle, and because his young blonde beautiful and also wealthy wife hasn’t had sex with him for a few weeks, that is a problem too. Though sex isn’t a problem for Parker, he finds time for it. Ultimately it is not that he is an unlikeable character, which he is, it’s that Pattinson offers no emotion, elicits no sympathy, and there is nothing said by him that is the least bit profound. It’s just made to seem that way.
A quote before the movie says that rats one day will be used as currency. Outside the limo, riots erupt over something—anything going on in the world, and the rat motif is drilled home, as chaos is sure to prevail just as it is on the inside of the limo.
When Packer confronts his enemy in a final dramatic scene, it’s tough to know who to root for. It becomes the first very captivating scene in the film, and too the last. Like the circuitous route taken by the limo to reach the barber, Cosmopolis meanders it’s way to a final destination—one that is never as satisfying as it should be.