Thursday, June 27, 2013

Review: Cosmopolis

I did like the music. Gotta say that right up front. There wasn't enough of it, but what was there, I liked. It contributed to the intermittently dreamlike mood.

But otherwise? Cosmopolis is a pretentious mess, a string of disjointed scenes whose purpose feel less like narrative advancement and more like "let's bring in this actor now." The thematic continuity, such as it is, tries to seem like it's got its "finger on the pulse" of contemporary American issues like class warfare, sexual politics, and crazed lone gunmen. But if educators in future generations decide this movie represents our time, then I feel bad for the students forced to watch it.

Maybe my vitriol is partly due to the concept's inherent appeal and potential. Cosmopolis concerns a brilliant and amoral young Wall Street bazillionaire whose financial empire begins to collapse all around him while he spends most of the movie in his borderline-sci-fi limo surrounded by riots. AND it's directed in a sterile, sleek fashion by David Friggin' Cronenberg. I can imagine a universe where I love the shit out of that movie.

Instead, Cosmopolis is almost Altman-like in its desperation to distance itself from the audience, I guess so it seems like the coolest dude at the party. The chief culprit is the dialogue, the most noticeable oddity of which is the stilted phrasing; the only character, for example, who doesn't overuse the pronoun "this" is the old guy near the end. On the basis of the unnatural speech (and some of the screen graphics in the limo), I assume we were supposed to infer this is a near-future setting. But weird pseudo-Nadsat linguistic pretension wasn't what really bugged me.

The content of the characters' dialogue, when it's comprehensible, feels continually like one of those excerpts they make you read in Theater 101, where you can make a vague guess about how it's supposed to sound and feel but there's no hint at all of what it's supposed to mean—sometimes because it's removed from its original context, but often because whoever wrote it was being inaccessible for the sake of being inaccessible. It even feels like a stage-to-screen adaptation in some ways, and not just because at least half of the film's running time takes place inside his limo, characters entering and exiting periodically. But that's not what really bugged me either.

This is a movie with a lot of Things to Say. And now and then, there's a hint that what it's trying to Say is kind of cool, like the part in the Samantha Morton scene (every scene is defined by Pattinson's co-star, very few of whom recur later) where she's connecting finance, mortality, and the centrality of human perception of time to both. Less ambitiously, some characters get neat (if stilted and unnatural) musings about the life of the city—its noise, its history, its dangers. Once in a while, glimmers of ideas shine through just enough that you can overlook the characters' tendency to recite dialogue at one another rather than interact with one another.

But more often, the Things being Said are either tired and obvious (e.g. the "divorce" scene, whose message appears to be "Rich cosmopolitan types want to relate to each other but can't") or hopelessly opaque (e.g. just about the entire Paul Giamatti sequence). Maybe it's because this is an adapted novel. Hell, maybe it all might have seemed to mean something if there'd been voiceover narration. Look at me, wishing for voiceover narration. WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO ME, MOVIE?

And then there's that ending. It wants to be a fuck-you ending, except that the whole rest of the movie was such a fuck-you rest-of-the-movie that you JUST KNOW it's gonna end like that.

It's not like I'm unwilling to criticize capitalism right down to the roots. It's not like I don't get all schadenfreudified when Donald Trump makes an ass of himself on Twitter. It's not like I didn't pump my fist at the end of V for Vendetta…how could you not? (Maybe if you read the original graphic novel and got all nerd-ragey, okay.) But just because your movie is about the hyperrich doesn't mean you are excused from giving us dialogue and story in which something happens apart from the obvious "guy disconnected from other humans meanderingly explores his own disconnectedness." I've seen that indie movie.

And speaking of our protagonist, I should address Robert Pattinson's performance in this demanding role. Having never seen more than about twenty seconds of any Twilight movie, I had no particular expectations going in. He's miscast here—the role needs a young guy, yes, but the role also wants more gravitas than he can deliver. He's neither terrible nor boring, and I was pleasantly surprised on that score, but if I'm supposed to come away from this thinking he's the next DiCaprio, well, I didn't. At times his performance choices seemed to be imitating other intense-white-guy actors, possibly including Leo himself, but I didn't nail down the impression too precisely; to be perfectly frank, by the time he meets Giamatti's character I was about ready to abandon the movie.

The reason I didn't was pretty much solely to warn you, the hypothetical reader: don't be misled by Cosmopolis appearing to be about "hyperrich guy's bubble versus fictionalized Occupy movement." In spite of its subject matter, it barely takes place in anything resembling reality, and while that's not necessarily a cinematic crime, being boring on top of it is. I hope for Pattinson's sake that he chooses his next prestige project with more care.

Star Score: 1.5 out of 5

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