Cosmopolis (US - BD RA)
Gabe kept waiting for Robert Pattinson to blow up a head with his scanner powers
New York City, the not-too-distant-future: Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson), a 28 year-old finance golden boy who dreams of living in a civilization ahead of this one, watches a dark shadow cast over the firmament of the Wall Street galaxy, of which he is the uncontested king. As he is chauffeured across midtown Manhattan to get a haircut at his father's old barber, his anxious eyes are glued to the yuan’s exchange rate: it is mounting against all expectations, destroying Eric's bet against it. He is losing his empire with every tick of the clock. Meanwhile, an eruption of wild activity unfolds in the city's streets. Petrified as the threats of the real world infringe upon his cloud of virtual convictions, his paranoia intensifies during the course of his 24-hour cross-town odyssey. (From eOne’s official synopsis)
When first announced, David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis was given an outrageously surreal teaser trailer that seemed to imply something along the lines of Videodrome. Following ten years of movies that take place in the real world, it seemed appropriate that he’d return to familiar territory. But that initial teaser was misleading. It captures some of the film’s tone, but doesn’t really give any clue as to the content or even Cronenberg’s pacing choices. Cosmopolis is obviously not the return to body horror fans have been craving for decades, but it’s probably time that we recognize those days are gone. It isn’t likely Cronenberg is going to return to body horror. Love it, hate it, or sit in relative indifference to it, eXistenZ was his last hurrah in regards to that kind of filmmaking. Cosmopolis’ closest relatives are probably Crash and Spider – deliberately paced, cold, nihilistic anti-assaults with plenty of the director’s patented intellectual perversion. This is unfortunate, because Crash and Spider are among my least favourite Cronenberg films, along with his historical romance misfire, M. Butterfly. M. Butterfly has a pretty bad reputation, but the Crash and Spider brand of Cronenberg filmmaking garner quite a bit of love among fans and I at least understand what makes them ‘special.’ I think the Crash comparisons are especially apt, beyond the obvious fetishistic treatment of motor vehicles, the clinical sex scenes, and the detached visual qualities. Cosmopolis is rhythmically, tonally, and even morally very similar to Crash. At best, it feels a bit like the more interesting arthouse philosophy of Videodrome, minus grotesque, unique visual qualities and its impeccable pacing. This leaves Cosmopolis’ philosophy feeling empty and over-thought.
A History of Violence, Eastern Promises, and A Dangerous Method were not only all mainstream-filtered Cronenberg, they were Cronenberg working with comparatively lavish budgets. He has proven he is adept at creating slick images, but his roots are in raw art films and borderline campy horror. Cosmopolis isn’t a complete step back into zero-budget filmmaking, but its certainly visually closer to the rough, quickly shot features of his pre- Fly and Dead Ringers filmography. Cosmopolis is dry and detached to the point of alienation, but this is clearly the point of the exercise – it fits with the theme and reflects the main character’s listless, sociopathic mindset. Cronenberg’s direction is precisely attuned to being unpleasant – including garish digital photography, and off-kilter, wide-angle close-ups. He spends a lot of his time cutting between these close-ups, which thrusts the audience uncomfortably between the actors’ faces as they converse in indomitable tones. The screenplay is based on a book by author Don DeLillo and, according to the director’s commentary, Cronenberg didn’t change a word, but the highly stylized dialogue rarely struck me as un-Cronenbergian in terms of its stiff, philosophical practices and lack of concern for narrative thrust. Without having read DeLillo’s book, it sort of feels like Cronenberg chose this story to adapt simply because he wanted to film the climax, which is the only time his movie really comes to life. This, again, appears to be the point of the exercise, considering this is the only time Pattinson’s emotionally and physically detached main character truly feels anything, himself.
The most idiosyncratic and experimental component here is Cronenberg’s strict adherence to breaking the entire film down into two character conversations. Even if another speaking role character is present during the discussion (which is incredibly rare), he or she will not speak until the discussion is complete. Even in his relative blockbusters, like The Fly, Cronenberg tends to break his screenplays down into two character interactions and tell his story slightly more through dialogue than imagery, but Cosmopolis certainly takes things to an extreme not previously explored. The storyline is practically impossible to follow, given the strange structure and, again, I suppose this is Cronenberg’s point. No one really understands the economic process unless they’re buried in it. The problem is that the danger and insanity of the concept is apparently meant to escalate, but the lack of suspense and continuing brooding tone doesn’t really signify the situation is any worse than it was when we started. Cronenberg depends on the amplification of his grimy imagery to communicate the descent. In the end, he has made the film he set out to make and it certainly bares his signature on every frame. Subjectively speaking, I found Cosmopolis exhausting and unappealing, but the only objective issue I can find with it is that it’s about three or four years too late. Obviously, the trials of capitalism will always be an issue, at least as long as major economic powers practice it, but, boy, would this have been a whole lot more relevant around 2008 (the book was released in 2003).
Shot using Arri Alexa cameras, Cosmopolis marks Cronenberg’s and (I believe) long time collaborating cinematographer Peter Suschitzky’s first foray into digital HD photography. The effect is not particularly attractive, but it’s certainly interesting and there’s no sign of the director and cinematographer pulling away from the specific capabilities of the format. This is a warm, soft, glowing film – all qualities standard film doesn’t handle particularly well without a bunch of digital tampering. Des-pite the soft backgrounds and smooth colour blends, details remain sharp, especially the fine textures of skin, hair, clothing, and the leather inside the limo. The clarity of the world outside of the limo is uncomfortably crisp at times, which leads to that uncanny, fake look. The colour quality is relatively consistent, with yellow and gold in the place of white, and a general warm brown quality spread over everything else. The standout elements are poppy reds and the cool neon hues that permeate from electronically lit objects. As Eric’s situation deteriorates, more greens are introduced to the mix creating the desired sickly effect, though I also began to notice some minor banding effects the darker and more pervasive these greens became. The blacks are bottomless and consistent without ironing out the fine highlights. However, it is between the blacks and smooth colours where you will find the transfer’s one obvious shortcoming – edge haloes. These aren’t oppressive, but are noticeable throughout the entire film, specifically around the crisper foreground elements.
Cosmopolis’ DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack isn’t particularly expansive or impressive, but this is all in keeping with the film’s static tone. The sound design here is relatively dry and dialogue-dependant. The only exceptions are the interesting dynamic juxtapositions made between locations. The limo is so climate-controlled that it features little more than the sound of dialogue and music. Then, anytime Eric leaves the limo, the new environment will feature a myriad of ambient noise that defines the environment. But this ambience is still pretty dry and minimalist, even when we’re spending sizable time outside the vehicle and the effects are appropriately directionally enhanced. The climax features a couple of zippy gunshots that give punch to the LFE and crack through the silence with genuine aggression. Cosmopolis reunites Cronenberg with composer Howard Shore yet again, though, this time, they brought Canadian New Wave band Metric (who has songs featured in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Clean, and Twilight Saga: Eclipse) along for the ride. There are a few brief moments of club-scene noisiness, but, for the most part, the score follows the subtle calmness of the rest of the soundtrack.
The extras begin with a solo commentary from Cronenberg, himself. Cronenberg’s tracks are always invaluable additions to a disc’s supplemental material. His even, quiet tone and intellectual subject matter could be construed as somehow elitist by some listeners, I suppose, but I’ve always thought he’s an inclusive commentator that doesn’t talk down to his audience. Here, Cronenberg discusses the purposefully surrealistic look of the world outside of the limo’s windows, DeLillo’s unrealistic dialogue styles, some of the more ironic critical reactions to the book, the real world inspirations, visual considerations, the main character’s growth, and conveys a series of brief behind-the-scenes anecdotes. I could probably listen to Cronenberg read the phonebook, though, so perhaps my opinion on the matter is a bit skewed. Either way, I’m more likely to revisit Cosmopolis again, now that I have the director’s specific intentions and a better understanding of the novel in mind.
Up next is Citizens of Cosmopolis (1:50:20, HD), a feature-length documentary on the making of the film. It covers a whole lot of stuff (a lot of it overlaps with the commentary), from producer Paulo Branco approaching Cronenberg with the material, Cronenberg’s writing process, the story’s place in the modern world, casting, Robert Pattinson’s fanbase (which followed the production),Cronenberg’s off-site, walky-talky direction (weird), the difficulty of shooting in the small limo set, choreographing a riot, music, editing, and digital photography. There’s a whole bunch of raw behind-the-scenes footage here and on-screen interviews with Cronenberg, producers Paulo Branco and Martin Katz, assistant directors Walter Gasparovic and Jack Bohem, cinematographer Peter Suschitzky, animal wrangler Jim Lovisek, composer Howard Shore, editor Ronald Sanders, and actors Pattinson, Kevin Duran, Sarah Gadon, Juliette Binoche, Emily Hampshire, K’naan, Mathieu Amalric, and Paul Giamatti. The extras are completed with further cast and crew interviews (basically outtakes and extended versions of the interviews already in the documentary, 27:10, HD), a trailer, and trailers for other eOne releases.
Cosmopolis is certainly not going to ever make my list of David Cronenberg’s best features, but it achieves everything it sets out to do and probably shouldn’t be considered a failure, just an acquired taste. Like Crash and Spider, I understand what makes this film special, I just don’t find the experience particularly enjoyable. Fans are in for a treat with this release, however. It features a vibrant 1080p transfer (with only minor edge haloes to spoil the near-perfection), an appropriately dry DTS-HD MA soundtrack, and a nice collection of extras, including a solid director’s commentary and a feature-length behind-the-scenes documentary.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 1st January 2013
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Subtitles: English SDH
Extras: Director's Commentary, Citizens of Cosmopolis Documentary. Cast & Crew Interviews. Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: David Cronenberg
Cast: Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, Samantha Morton, Paul Giamatti, Sarah Gadon, Mathieu Amalric, Jay Baruchel, Kevin Durand, K'Naan, Emily Hampshire
Genre: Comedy, Drama and Sci-Fi
Length: 109 minutes
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