109 min., rated R.
With a vision for the weird and icky and ideas to back it up, the ever-interesting auteur David Cronenberg (2011's underwhelming "A Dangerous Method") is always up for a challenge. "Cosmopolis" has been adapted by Cronenberg (his first screenwriting credit since 1999's "eXistenZ") from Don DeLillo's 2003 novel, but his latest feels like a glorified student film with technical polish. If his goal was to create a slavishly faithful adaptation to comment on capitalism until there's nothing left to comment on and turn it into a stultifyingly tedious endurance test, then he succeeded. As empty as the character it follows, "Cosmopolis" is the worst kind of cereberal, highbrow exercise—aloof, off-putting, and far too pretentious for its own good. From the time we see Robert Pattinson's character get into a stretch limo, it's obvious we're not going anywhere.
One near-futuristic Manhattan day, 28-year-old Eric Parker (Robert Pattinson), a billionaire asset manager, gets into his limo to go across town for a haircut. The president is in town and there are anarchist protests on the streets, so traffic moves at a snail's pace. Along the way, he finds the time to give a few people a lift, hold business meetings, have sex with other women, receive a prostate exam from his doctor, and have breakfast, lunch, and dinner with his poet wife, Elisa (Sarah Gadon), who doesn't want to have sex with him. As the day goes on, Eric is separated from the real world by his tinted windows, but the rioters hold dead rats outside Eric's limo and begin to deface his vehicle. It all points to the greedy hotshot's inevitable collapse.
"Cosmopolis" is an esoteric film that demands the full attention of its audience and could give us something to discuss afterwards, considering it's prescient of the Occupy movement. Instead, it's a lot of hot air, more alienating than anything by pretending to say—more like sermonize—something profound about financial inequality. Wait, is greed really bad? Like in an abstract Off-Off-Broadway play, characters never shut up, droning inscrutable, vacuous, and didactic verbiage in a mannered, monotone style as if they're reading from cue cards. Surely, the film is sleekly made with precision but without a heart or a pulse. Peter Suschitzsky's steely cinematography and Howard Shore's metallic score at least suit the sterile tone of the film, but not even top-notch technical credits can save this interminable crawl.
The jury's still out on Pattinson exhibiting any detectable acting skills or on-screen personality beyond reactionary faces. Here, he's appropriately cold, numb, tired, and enigmatic, uttering the highfalutin dialogue without stumbling, but Pattinson does the best any actor could with such one-note material. Eric might be a metaphor but he is such a smarmy, emotionless 1% prick that we don't care what happens to him or if he gets his ears lowered. And if we don't care about the outcome, not much else matters. Given the casting of the starry "Twilight" celeb in the lead, viewers might be curious to see what he can do with one of the most daring filmmakers, but should avoid it completely. A slew of good actors—Jay Baruchel, Juliette Binoche, Emily Hampshire, and Samantha Morton—come in for a scene apiece inside Eric's limo without registering as actual characters. Who are these people and why should we care?
Confounding and emotionally at arm's length from the viewer, "Cosmopolis" becomes less hermetically sealed in its apartment-set confrontation between the "foully and berserkly rich" Eric and the disgruntled man who wants to kill him (Paul Giamatti, the most spontaneous, unrobotic thing in the film). Even then, the indulgently gabby last 20 minutes is the final nail in the coffin. There's nothing to feel and little to think about. Perhaps diehard Cronenberg fans will still take to this one, but all of the surreal audacity and thought-provoking commentary Cronenberg once crafted in "Videograme," "The Fly," and "Dead Ringers" have faded away in a rear-view mirror.