I've equally met his more dramatic work with equal anticipation...though I'll admit, Cronenberg lost me for a few years when I was still a youth and he was ready to move away from a more visceral horror for a more psychological one. I recently revisited Dead Ringers (1988), which, I must admit, as a story about the mental breakdown of twin gynecologists, sort of lost something on me as a teenager, but I found it to still be a shocking and surprising film today. However, I was perfectly ready and excited by Cronenberg's crossover success with A History of Violence (2005) and Eastern Promises (2007).
However, when a friend related to me his recent experience of seeing Cosmopolis in the theater, and the hostile reaction by the portly woman seated next to him...something like "That was bullshit!" at the film's conclusion, led me to remember a story of my own bewilderment at a Cronenberg screening. I was in college in Austin when Cronenberg's Crash (1996) came out. The one about sex & car crashes based on the J.G. Ballard novel, not the silly overwrought one about racism. After over an hour and half of bizarre and extreme sexual exploration, people started leaving when James Spader and Elias Koteas shared a few kisses ten minutes before the end. And all I could think was, "You sat through all that...and this...this is what freaks you out? Sheesh."
Cosmopolis is not easy. Two-thirds of it takes place in the claustrophobic dark confines of a futuristic stretch limo with its protagonist, billionaire Eric Packer, having conversations with the various people who meet him along his route across town to get a haircut. It's philosophical. It's obtuse. And the characters don't seem to be talking to each other as much as absent-mindedly jabbing you with the tines of a fork representing their intellectual positions. I don't have to stretch my mind far to see where it would be a difficult experience, and yet I couldn't help but find it fascinating.
Pattinson is an excellent choice to play Packer. He embodies the cold stoicism of a marble statue, yet, all the while has a highly calculating mind and a predatory ferocity just under the surface. He plays Packer's slow meltdown in a subtle note-by-note change rather than let it devolve into histrionics. The supporting cast, including Jay Baruchel, Samantha Morton, and Juliette Binoche, among many other fine performances, create a sort of personality pantheon each coming for a few moments of conversation or fornication with their Zeus. Packer's eventual confrontation with Benno Levin (Paul Giamatti) has the feel of a one-act play of its own, a sort of mini-film within the film. However, I'd rather not say too much at this point. Talking about the details of movies 20 years old is one thing, but I'd like to see people give this one a chance before I give away too much.
My final note is that I've seen a number of reviewers criticize the less than seamless nature of the "rear-screen projection" look of the world passing by the limo. Now, I've never been an apologist for chintzy effects, but this one never once bothered me. I kept thinking about how in this climate of 1% v. 99% having heard so many anecdotes of people who've never opened their own door or fed their children, etc. So to me, in that attitude, it seemed like an appropriate way for a guy like that to see the world: as though it were all happening somewhere else to other people even when they're rocking his own limo. And if you think that's a load of bullshit, I'll refer you to the movie's discussion of shutting out city noise.