Robert Pattinson is not a great actor – not yet, anyway. There’s barely a spark in his Harry Potter and Twilight performances that suggests he’s a generation-defining talent other than his handsome face. Indeed, the main issue with Cosmopolis is that Pattinson isn’t quite compelling enough to carry such a slow-paced character piece.
Based on the Don DeLillo novel of the same name, Pattinson plays a high-flying entrepreneurial brat, Eric Packer, who swans around in his limo – which doubles as his workplace – having sex with various women, including art consultant, Didi (Juliette Binoche), but not his miserable wife, Elise (Sarah Gadon), who lingers around New York with a kind of distaste for her partner. Eric eventually starts to tire of the stability within his life, and goes on a rampage of self-destruction.
Cosmopolis is set in a future where an Occupy-style movement is reimagined as an army of deadly protestors that put Packer’s life in danger at any given time. He can’t leave the protective confines of his limo without being targeted – his existence is limited by this immense wealth.
The first hour of Cosmopolis is a slow, boring crawl, however, with intermittently interesting glimpses of this capitalist wasteland from the windscreen of Packer’s vehicle. It’s only when Eric deliberately unravels his own micro-universe that the film finds something to say – even then, the pacing is stuck at a sluggish crawl.
The dialogue is also contentious, written with a bizarre in-universe (example: the oft-repeated phrase “my prostate is asymmetrical”), describing how they can smell the stench of “intercourse” on each other. When a film ventures to be this stylish, it’ll always end up dividing the audience, and in this case viewers will either rally against such pretension or embrace it. Again, though, while Pattinson matches the persona of the main character, he fails to imbue his endless scenes of upper class misery with any noticeable personality, and therefore isn’t quite able to carry the film himself.
Arguably, that’s the point – that Packer is a vain demigod in an economically irresponsible world – but even so, for a picture that hinges so much narrative on a single actor, he falls short of excellence. The occasional terrific exchange that explains the sorry state of the world or Packer’s self-obsession is countered by lots of self-indulgent nonsense about his favourite musician or his two elevators; pointless asides that contribute nothing to the story other than to underline how meaningless Eric’s life is.
What turns it around is a magnificent denouement, featuring Paul Giamatti as a character who, without spoiling anything, is the absolute by-product of Packer’s obsession with precision and his amoral one per cent approach to the world. This extended climax packs in more exposition and story than that seen in the prior 90 minutes, which is symptomatic of Cosmopolis’s structural issues – but nonetheless, the world portrayed in the film, as well as the gripping final third that sees Packer completely lose it, gives Cronenberg’s adaptation some credible appeal that defies the choice of Pattinson for the leading role.