Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Streets Are Filled With The Sleekest Tombs

Leave it to David Cronenberg to take an "unfilmable" novel about the dense poetry of elliptical capitalist nonsense and make a movie from it straight-on, focusing right in on its anti-cinematic nature as hard as he can. Cosmopolis is about words, and it's about silence - Robert Pattinson's character Eric Packer pauses to reflect upon pauses, for goodness sake, and the majority of the action not only happens in the claustrophobic coffin of a stretch limousine but it takes place in the claustrophobic coffin of a stretch limousine that's been fitted for soundlessness, and Cronenberg goes above and beyond the call of duty if cutting off all excess noise on the soundtrack. This place is a self-sealed vacuum, a tupperware container of ricocheting capitalist suspicions.

So it's a weird and an unsettling picture... entirely Cronenberg. People speak stiltedly, oft affectless. Pattinson isn't quite robotic, but he keeps things on an even keel for the majority - if somebody gets a smirk from him, you feel like they've won the lottery. His prostate does most of his emoting, off-screen. This isn't a slight - it's right for the character, and for what Cronenberg wants - it just works best when Rob's got somebody better than him to play off of.

So what it comes down to is a series of episodic conversations, building towards who knows what (an anti-confrontation) but there's a sense of building, and the strength of each sequence depends upon the person opposite Pattinson involved. Some people carve a more memorable swath through the rigid confines than others. Cronenberg's obviously fascinated by Packer's predeterminate null and void newlywed situation (he makes it even colder than it is in the book), but the scenes between Packer and his wife (played by a very game for being very flat Sarah Gadon) played forced for me. 

Juliette Binoche gets a nice scene early on but she could've done it in her sleep; granted, one of her sexiest of sleeps. It's Samantha Morton who gets the opportunity to tear into it, and does she ever - I could listen to her rattle off theoretical stock portfolio poetry for hours. She lands the bizarre tone of it while making it sizzle at the same time - that long tube of limousine opens up never better than when she's filling it. She cuts right down to the bone of it, and everything stops and makes sense, beautiful bizarre sense, as she does.

Later when Paul Giamatti shows up I rolled my eyes at the obviousness of casting Paul Giamatti in the role - him for a mad-eyed loser schlub? Who'd have thunk it? - but he ends up sticking a marvelous speech about women's shoes and the "merchant copy" so on point that I was reminded why somebody would hire Paul Giamatti to do this again. It's one of the funniest, most caustically incisive moments that Cronenberg's ever filmed.

It's a difficult movie, I think (and by "difficult" I really mean "deliberately off-putting"); it's one you've gotta be willing to put up the effort to ride along with, and to overlook the occasional pot-hole. It hangs strange, ill-fitting even. But there's life - sexy snaking smart bat-shit weird life - left in Cronenberg yet.

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