Cosmopolis – Movie Review

The program is secure, but are we?

In 2003 Don DeLillo wrote “Cosmopolis,” an account of a 25-year-old techno-billionaire taken out of time. Tracking his all-or-nothing gamble on the drop of the Chinese Yuan, he is transported across Manhattan in his opulent ultra-stretch limousine to a fateful meeting with his barber.

On August 1, 2012, Knight Capital’s new trading system started multiplying stock trades by one thousand, triggering a supersonic spiral into a $400 million dollar loss and the ceding of the company to a rival firm.

On August 11, 2012, a semi-insane vagrant was backed down 7th Avenue in broad daylight  by a half dozen police and slaughtered with twelve shots at close range, a few blocks from the setting of DeLillo’s novel, for waving a kitchen knife. On August 13, “Cosmopolis” screened on 6th.

Writer/director David Cronenberg has us in his sights and is ready to pull the trigger in this appropriately airless psycho-thriller based on DeLillo’s novel.

The New York press screening was packed. They were checking IDs at the door to see who would get in and who would not. As Eric Packer’s super-stretch limo warmed up backstage for that ride to infinity the crowd grew increasingly restless and disenchanted. Nobody could tell if this would be the greatest film of the year or another quantum drop into Gotham’s humiliating abyss.

There were three groups of people who came out of the screening. The first group could not figure out why anyone would make such a bad movie, nor could they figure out why they went through nearly being retina scanned to get in. The second group desperately wanted to understand the film but could not.

The third group thought of DeLillo’s novels and shuddered at the realization that what he is saying may well be true. They are making plans to leave the city but cannot find suitable work elsewhere.

After all, like Eric Packer (in a stunning performance by Robert Pattinson) the people in New York have it pretty good. Insulated by their jobs, their cars, their clothes and their firewalls, like Packer, they are ahead of the game. Shiner, their chief of technology (Jay Baruchel) assures them that every possible measure has been taken to ensure the safety and reliability of their take on reality. Their very subway ride is backed by the full faith and authority of the Federal Reserve.

As Packer analyzes his deteriorating multi-billion dollar wager on the Yuan, he debates intimacy with his wealthy wife Elise Shifrin (Sarah Gadon) and art purchases with his dealer Didi Fancher (Juliette Binoche), each in about the same tone of voice. He consults with his driver and bodyguard Torval (Kevin Durand) about the odds of making it across town.

The situation is deteriorating and the complex is issuing increasingly dire warnings. Traffic speaks in quarter inches. The president is in town and streets vanish from the maps instantly and without pattern.

Computer firewall security chief Michael Chin (Philip Nozuka) joins Packer in the car, like others before and after him, and confirms and re-confirms there is no virus. The program is secure. The firewall is safe. Gradually, the farther Packer goes towards the West side, the more restless grow the crowds, until they are leaping on his car, defacing it and breaking it.

By the time he reaches his barber, the program has become the virus. It is former Packer employee Richard Sheets, who renamed himself Benno Levin (played to perfection by Paul Giamatti) who is the firewall. Having reached his destination, his haircut half finished, Parker confronts Levin in his former analyst’s filthy squat.

The hovel is a trash pile of alphanumeric flotsam and jetsam, the miscarried offspring of finance and technology. Torn and crumpled papers, their information long since yielded to entropic tides, are piled with broken adding machines and discolored note pads.

Levin, himself a surplus adding machine, nearly gave his soul to the Packer enterprise and the complex. Levin has a toilet. It is very simple. There is a hole in the toilet and a hole in the floor. One simply positions the one hole over the other. The digital age reduced to its essence, the bytes aligned.

In the vein of the film, staged almost entirely in the stretch limousine, Cronenberg encouraged people to see “Lebanon,” which is filmed entirely in the confines of a tank. The two films are very similar. Some die and some live, but nobody comes out the same as they went in.

He joked that this was his version of “Das Boot,” the classic WWII submarine drama of humans breaking down under stress. Only this is not some obscure war being fought hundreds of miles away and five hundred feet under water. This is the digital age. Paul Simon wrote that the words of the prophets were written on the subway walls. Now they are in LEDs all around us.

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Directed by: David Cronenberg
Written by: David Cronenberg based on the novel by Don DeLillo
Starring: Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche and Sarah Gadon
Release Date: August 17, 2012
MPAA: Rated R for some strong sexual content including graphic nudity, violence and language
Run Time: 108 minutes
Country: France / Canada / Portugal / Italy
Language: English
Color: Color