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Cosmopolis-stills-cosmopolis-31750511-1198-800In “Cosmopolis” director David Cronenberg takes us along for an existential road trip through the breakdown of modern society. Based on a novel by Don DeLillo the movie covers the gamut of human experience, from haircuts, money and infidelity to asymmetrical prostates and mortality.

“Twilight” heartthrob Robert Pattinson plays Eric Packer, a twenty-eight-year old billionaire money manager. Powerful, controlling and self-destructive, he rules his company from the back of a tricked-out stretch limousine. “People eat and sleep in the shadow of what we do,” he says. The glow of computer screens illuminates conversations with advisors, an invasive medical procedure and sex. What they don’t shed light on is Packer’s ennui.

Money has not brought happiness to Packer. Blank-faced, he ruminates on life and business while his car fights traffic—through a funeral procession for a dead rap star, an Occupy-style riot and a presidential visit to the city—to take him to his old Manhattan neighborhood for a haircut. He’s bleeding money—his investment in the Chinese yuan is tanking—world markets are collapsing and there’s even a credible death threat against his life, but the chaos and end-of-days strife happening outside his car brings with it an ever-increasing sense of calm.

“Cosmopolis” is old fashioned in the sense that it values language and ideas over action and flash but it is forward thinking in that those ideas are literally ripped from the headlines of the very near future. It’s a capitalist horror movie about the real value of money and the people who control it. “Nobody hates the rich,” Packer says in a moment of naiveté, “everybody thinks they’re ten seconds away from being rich.”

At the center of every scene, hell, pretty much every frame of “Cosmopolis” is Pattinson. He delivers a strange performance that wouldn’t have been out of place in a Nicolas Roeg film from 1976. He plays Packer as, simultaneously, the ultimate insider and consummate outsider. Think “The Man Who Fell to Earth’s” Thomas Jerome Newton, a wealthy but world-weary alien played by David Bowie (who would have made a great Packer had this movie been made in the early-1970s).

It’s a mannered, nihilistic performance that holds up very well under David Cronenberg’s invasive camera. The claustrophobic feel of the movie places a great deal of emphasis on Pattinson and he takes advantage of the up-close-and-personal cinematography to deliver a tricky performance that uses stillness to mask the boiling rage that exists beneath his stony veneer. His real feelings are as hermetically sealed as the bulletproof limo where he spends most of his time.

Swirling around Packer are a cadre of advisors, sex partners and security guards, nicely played by Emily Hampshire, Sarah Gadon, Kevin Durand, Jay Baruchel, Juliette Binoche (in a particularly lusty and unhinged performance) and Samantha Morton, Mathieu Almaric and Paul Giamatti (who makes “mutton” a funny word). They revolve in and out of his orbit, mouthing the complex dialogue, almost daring the viewer to keep up.

It’s a dense with ideas and dialogue. Cronenberg has never been afraid of ideas, but here he slathers them on thick. Characters ask questions, answers hang in the air and much is demanded of the viewer. The characters barely engage one another, let alone the audience, but their questions are meant to stir conversation if not between them, then among audience members.

“Cosmopolis” is a film that exists on the macro and the micro, a complex character study of one man’s battle to be relevant and alive and a look at the world that is rapidly changing around him.

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