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FILM REVIEW: Cosmopolis

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"My prostate is asymmetrical."

--Eric Packer in Cosmopolis

This is just one of the dozens of absurd non sequiturs waiting for you in the 108-minute journey through director David Cronenberg's Cosmopolis. An odyssey across Manhattan, a slow motion road movie or a series of dialectics on wealth, power and financial entropy, Cosmopolis is many things. What it isn't is a movie -- at least not a conventional one.

Comprising long stretches of airless scenes, filmed in a limo as silent as space, Cosmopolis is perhaps Cronenberg's least cinematic movie. The one-time horror auteur recently revealed that this was the fastest screenplay he's ever written, mainly due that fact he put entire chunks of the novel by Don DeLillo into the script. And it feels like it. Cosmopolis could be the first time I've watched a movie and thought: "This would make an excellent play."

"I look at books and drink brandy."

--Eric Packer

On a day when financial collapse looms in the air, a 28-year-old, Wall St. alpha male named Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) rides a limo across town for a haircut. Along the way, the billionaire makes a couple rolling pit stops: for sex, a full medical, breakfast, lunch, more sex and dinner.

The white stretch limousine is Packer's office on wheels. Flashing screens plugged into the markets track the trader's shrinking net worth -- due to a risky bet against China's yuan. Outside, the vehicle is flanked by a strolling squadron of security personal led by Torval (with big man Kevin Durand making the most out of a paper-thin role). He provides occasional updates on the state of Eric's safety, courtesy of intel from "The Complex."

Cosmopolis is a return to the detached coolness we've seen from Cronenberg in Crash and some of his earlier films. There is an artificial, hermetic quality to the affair, heightened by Toronto standing in for Manhattan. A few yellow taxicabs and NYC-branded trashcans can't turn Hogtown into The Big Apple. Still, the cheapness adds to the sense of unreality. Call it Cronenbergopolis.

"I'm hungry for something thick and chewy."

--Eric Packer

In this realm, it's obvious why Pattinson has become Cronenberg's new Viggo: he has the aquiline profile of a Cronenbergian protagonist and a certain feral cunning in his cold, dark eyes. More importantly, there's nothing standing in the way of the script. Pattinson is a vessel, a piece of glass. In between delivering his lines of dialogue, he is so still that one questions his existence. It's a quandary magnified by the introduction of a parade of employees connected to the billionaire. Jay Baruchel is a jittery IT specialist. Emily Hampshire is an executive-slash-single mom. The vivacious Juliette Binoche is an art dealer who also trades in baser desires. Her warmth is contrasted against Sarah Gadon's frigid demeanour as Packer's new wife.

"The spectre of capitalism is haunting the world."

--Billboard in Cosmopolis

In and out of the limo they go, each more emotional than the last, while Packer crawls toward his destination. At one point, the limo is enveloped by rioters waving rats and spray-painting its windows. Even as the protesters rock the car on its chassis, Pattinson rides out the storm, sipping his vodka with a repressed smirk.

You could almost view Cosmopolis as a transformation of sorts, as Packer slowly emerges from his shell as his fortune evaporates. Perhaps it's an absurd farce, as Pattinson suggested in our recent interview. Certainly, that's the only way to look at Cronenberg's personal addition to the film adaptation: a certain medical exam that Packer undergoes while in transit. With his pants down, facing his harried business partner Jane Melman (Hampshire), a sweating and almost aroused Parker chatters away while, behind him, a rubber-gloved doctor probes his plumbing.

"I love my cab."

--Ibrahim, a driver

Sexy, strange or stilted, it's impossible to consider Cosmopolis without taking into account its mountain of words. On and on they go, lines piling up like so many Jenga pieces. But to what effect? Granted, there's a staccato-like rhythm to it all -- "You feel hidden. You like to hide" -- as words and phrases repeat and overlap. It's Mamet without the machismo.

Behind amorphous ideas about money and the corrosive effects of capitalism, the clearest theme in this snail-paced piece of cinema is Packer's personal journey: a young man freeing himself. Cosmopolis ends with his reckoning as the billionaire meets his stalker, Paul Giamatti playing an underling named Benno.

Giamatti rages at Packer, rages at the system and at excess. "It's women's shoes! All the women's shoes! This alone can do it!"

It's the kind of thundering-at-the-heavens speech actors must dream of and he makes a meal of it. Then, just as Pattinson begins showing some semblance of humanity, Benno slams the coffin shut, pronouncing: "You're like someone already dead."

Cosmopolis ends soon after, with what may be a sense of relief for Packer, not to mention those along for the ride.

RATING: 2 out of 5

Robert Pattinson, Sarah GadonRobert Pattinson and Sarah Gadon appear in a scene from David Cronenberg's Cosmopolis. (Caitlin Cronenberg/eOne Films)

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