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There's a poem I read in which a rat becomes the unit of currency.


Cosmopolis
(2012)

Robert Pattison’s billionaire financial whizz, Eric Packer, embarks on a limo ride across Manhattan in search of a haircut, taking meetings as he goes. It becomes clear that in the run up to this his keen sense of predicting the financial markets has deserted him, but instead of reacting fearfully he becomes increasingly fuelled by nihilistic abandon.

David Cronenberg’s film, adapted from Don DeLillo’s novel, is dense and talky, at times verging on the theatrical in its emphasis on two-hander dialogue scenes. But he makes this work to in his favour; conversations are edited as shot-reverse shots, complementing the dialogue and creating a musicality to the way in which scenes unfold (on the subject of music, Howard Shore’s score is excellent). Set mostly in hermetic, confined spaces (and one space in particular, the back of his limo), it recalls the claustrophobic interiors of his pre-‘90s work both in heightened milieu and the focused abstraction of its central protagonist.

R-Patz is incredibly good, delivering his copious dialogue in a controlled rhythmical manner (as if he’s been going to Mamet classes) and really selling Eric’s blithe disconnection to the events and people around him. Characters repeatedly voice concerns over not matching his expectations, or not understanding the world around them, and whilst the financial malaise that surrounds him (including the limo being graffitied by anti-capitalist rioters) ignites most of the conversations, the focus is ultimately on more existential philosophical conundrums. The discussions are fascinating and engrossing, but there’s too much to absorb in just one viewing. Despite their density they invariably conclude with a sense of their essential meaninglessness, reflecting the life to which Eric finds himself waking up.

Likewise, the quirks of the narrative (for example, Eric repeatedly alights the limo to meet with this new wife Elise, but there is no explanation of how or why she appears at random points on his route) appear designed to follow Eric’s downward spiralling mental journey (or odyssey, given the numerous individuals he encounters and possible representations they have) rather than any real world logic.

The supporting cast are top notch, from Paul Giamatti’s enraged and unhinged ex-employee (who possesses the insights that elude Eric, at journey’s end) to Sarah Gadon (who appeared in A Dangerous Method as Mrs Jung) as Eric’s wife. Kevin Durand, Samantha Morton, Mathieu Amalric and Juliette Binoche all appear during the proceedings.

The film is also frequently very funny, particularly as the director’s last few films (as good as they are) have been terribly earnest affairs. Now you’ll have to excuse me, I’m having my Korean panic attack.

****1/2

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