R-Patts sparkles in a different way for Cronenberg’s bizarro urban nightmare ‘Cosmopolis’


PROSTATE WITH SORROW | Robert Pattinson plays a weird billionaire with a penchant for rectal exams in David Cronenberg’s unsettling film ‘Cosmopolis.’

STEVEN LINDSEY  | Contributing Writer
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Watching Cosmopolis, director David Cronenberg’s latest exercise in the bizarre, it’s hard not to picture legions of Twilight-addicted ‘tweens, whose mothers weren’t paying attention when their daughters asked them to buy tickets to the R-rated film, screaming in horror and running for the exits as their imaginary boyfriend Robert Pattinson gets a prostate exam inside his character’s stretch limousine.

It’s comically unnerving scenes like this that make the somewhat self-indulgent film intriguing enough to endure through to the final credits. But knowing it was originally supposed to include a gratuitous shot of Pattinson’s low-hanging family jewels (since, ummm, cut) only adds to the frequent frustration of this dialogue-heavy endeavor that crawls as slowly as his character’s vehicle through New York traffic.

The story follows 28-year-old billionaire Eric Packer (Pattinson) as he journeys across Manhattan in search of a haircut. Along the way, he encounters visitors, including an older woman (Juliette Binoche) popping in for a quickie, and a doctor for Packer’s bend-over-grab-ankle moment. Occasionally, the traffic is at such a standstill that he’s able to pop out for not just breakfast, but also lunch and dinner with his even stranger wife (Sarah Dagon). Packer eventually gets his haircut (don’t worry, that’s not a spoiler), but the real payoff is a final-act encounter with Paul Giamatti, a mysterious figure from his past now living in unimaginable squalor.

Cosmopolis isn’t likely to convert the masses into overnight Cronenberg fans, whose previous works (The Fly, Dead Ringers, A History of Violence) prove far more consumer-friendly. For a movie filled with brief moments of unspeakable violence, explicit sex and a slowly building sense of dread, Cosmopolis too often feels stuck in neutral, accelerating rapidly only to abruptly halt once again.

That’s mostly because the overly cerebral conversations come verbatim from Don DeLillo’s novel. There’s a poetic coldness to these exchanges; the interactions only make the audience feel less educated, less important and less powerful than the one-percenters onscreen (which might be the point).

Filled with symbolism, the story from the nearly decade-old novel is almost eerily grounded in the present-day realities of money, power and the revolutionary uprising against those with too much of either. It’s depressing and mesmerizing all at once.

The film’s ultimate reward, however, is the realization that Pattinson is a gifted actor who can fascinate with the simplest of gestures or emotion-filled (and emotionless) gazes. And regardless of material, Cronenberg can deliver a stylized study of the human condition more haunting and cruelly beautiful than probably any other director working today.

Just plan to catch an early showing. Because after Cosmopolis, you’re gonna need a drink.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 31, 2012.