David Cronenberg’s adaptation of Don DeLillo’s 2003 novel “Cosmopolis” is as tedious and essentially meaningless as any frustrating trip crosstown, albeit with a lot more violence. The actor Robert Pattinson of “Twilight” fame plays the mega-wealthy currency trader Eric Packer as if he was still one of the undead.
Sitting in his tricked-out limousine, glancing at computer screens built into the seat arms and various pop-up screens, he conveys the machine-like qualities of the film’s vision of the man of the future. He’s almost a robot, devoid of emotion, of reflection, of thought.
Although he is with several women in the film, he’s clearly devoid of desire also. This is the least erotic coupling imaginable. Everything for Packer is a transaction. What turns him on is the patterns he sees in the reams of data that cross the screens. But something’s gone wrong — Packer’s big bet on the Chinese yuan isn’t working out as he expected, and he’s about to lose millions.
DeLillo is reputedly renowned for his dialogue, and according to the press notes Cronenberg lifted most of the film’s dialogue from the novel. Maybe it’s better in print, but as spoken by Pattinson and most of the other actors it’s just awful: portentous and silly, but not in a good, funny way. Samantha Morton, who plays Packer’s idea officer (whatever that is), spouts a lot of nonsense, interjecting after every sentence that she doesn’t understand what she’s saying.
She’s not alone. If the point is that we now live in a world that technology has made incomprehensible to most of us, that we feel isolated and alienated, that’s not exactly breaking news. Perhaps the film’s theme of the disastrous intersection of technology and capital seemed more visionary in 2003. Now, we read about the catastrophic results of fast moving market manipulations in the newspaper every day. In any case, Packer hardly seems to care that he’s losing money. He doesn’t care about anything except getting his haircut.
The New York City seen outside of Packer’s limo is at times violent, at times in revolt, and at other times, just weird. Packer is married to a chilly blonde poet (Sarah Gadon) from a hugely wealthy family who he keeps running into while his limo inches along the way.