Cosmopolis Blu Ray Sheds Light On Cronenberg’s Ambitious Failure

By bill - January 1, 2013

David Cronenberg’s latest is a heady, existentialist trip about the 1%, and the new Blu Ray release offers details on the legendary director’s challenging misfire.

Cosmopolis was not a very good movie.  More a character study that a story, the film follows loathsome Eric Packer, a 28 year old financial genius who has a front row seat for the collapse of the global economy.  Taking place almost exclusively in his beyond tricked-out limo as he rides across Manhattan, Eric’s loosening grip on the impossible wealth he has amassed runs parallel with his equally loosening grip on sanity.

The resulting film is very talky, as Packer engages in a litany of dialogues with various others who board his limo, or whom he meets on his excursion.  The conversations are weird (which is to be expected, from a master of the weird like Cronenberg), but many times they fall flat, feeling more like a stagey table read from a community theater than a motion picture.  And the meandering philosophical back and forth’s never gel into anything more than what you’d hear from the college undergrads hanging out in the corner at Starbucks.

But in spite of these issues, there’s an element to Cosmopolis that still makes for a fascinating watch.  Through all the clunky dialogue, ineffectual rhetoric and stilted performances, there’s a level of ambition watching Cronenberg try to  go as starkly minimal as possible– I think I get what he’s trying to do here.  The movie thrusts Packer under an intense microscope, revealing the sheer and utter disconnect that the super wealthy have from everything else, even from humanity itself.  This sort of thing has been done before, but Cronenberg’s thesis, much like that of novelist Don DeLillo, posits that the disconnect is more abstract than villainy.  Packer isn’t a bad guy, he’s too rich for any morality– but his impossible means and power have left him completely numb, and this numbness is what Cronenberg tries to capture and have we, as the audience, experience.

It’s a remarkably more grown up aspiration than the pedantic dialogue would suggest.  But it doesn’t work.  Yes, American Psycho takes a juvenile low road by painting the mega-rich protagonist as a sociopath and a killer.  Packer is clearly a sociopath himself, but while he’s far more believable and grounded than Patrick Bateman, he’s colossally less cinematic, despite the best efforts of a very good Robert Pattinson.

After watching the movie, I was very keen to check out the special features included, hoping they would shed some light on the high concepts that almost worked, and attempting to discover why they didn’t.  There’s a bit of that going on in Cronenberg’s commentary track, which is fairly dry (not a huge surprise considering the arid dryness of the film itself), but he mostly discusses what drew him to the project– this stays fairly obvious, as the subtle dementia of the lead and the clinical approach to storytelling seem right up the director’s alley.

The disc also features a full-length documentary called “Citizens of Cosmopolis,” which sports the expected love letters to Cronenberg from his cast, but also some cool insight into his filmmaking process.  It’s honestly more interesting than the movie itself in many ways, and I loved seeing a director as bold as Cronenberg scale back so small, in a movie with essentially one set.  It’s also worth noting that Cronenberg points out his valiant efforts to stay as true to the source material as possible, which is evident in the odd structure of the film, in which much of what would be the plot unfolds outside the limo, on the other side of the glass from Packer.  I love this concept, and it’s one of the aspects of the film that works incredibly well– it just needed better stuff going on inside the car to balance it out.

The disc is rounded out with cast and crew interviews (featuring some footage recycled from the documentary), as well as the trailer.  The entire Blu Ray set is presented in high definition, and the AVC encoded 1.85.1 widescreen transfer is gorgeous, as is the DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio sound.

As he directed some of my absolute favorite movies of all time, it pains me to knock a Cronenberg movie.  There’s enough auterish flourishes to the film to make it worth checking out, and if you do, the Blu Ray disc is absolutely the best way to see it.  Cosmopolis is not very good, but there’s so many interesting things creeping around the edges of the meandering dialogue and existentialist pretentiousness that it almost feels hard to write off as a total wash.

I feel like I should rewatch this movie to get a better handle on its hazy failures AND successes… the problem is, I don’t think I liked it enough to sit through again anytime soon.

Cosmospolis is out on Blu Ray and DVD now– Click Here to purchase it, and see what you think.

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