A Message: I walked out of this film. I went to a theatre, paid money to see it, sat down, got through the ads and trailers, the movie started, I got approximately one hour and ten minutes into it, I got up out of my seat and proceeded to walk home. There was about forty minutes left in the movie, maybe less, I’m not quite sure, but I didn’t care. It’s the first time in my life I’ve walked out of a movie just because it was bad. Now, let me tell you why…
Never have I seen a film by a major director so lazily directed as David Cronenberg‘s Cosmopolis. If even the director can’t be bothered to direct his movie, why on earth should I be bothered to watch it? Alas, the name Cronenberg drew me in, as did some vague positivity out of Cannes. When I say I have no idea where that positivity comes from, know I am not being hyperbolic in the slightest. Sometimes I just don’t like a movie that other people like. Often times I can understand their point of view in part. Other times I realize I’m simply not the target for a specific movie. With Cosmopolis, though, I just don’t get it. A film so badly made, enjoyed unironically? It’s beyond the scope of my comprehension.
First of all, let me break down what’s bad about the movie. I could just say all of it and leave it at that and feel pretty satisfied with the accuracy of my response, but I walked out of the film and didn’t see the resolution, so I don’t want to make claims I can’t 100% stand behind. So instead I’ll start with the most clearly bad thing about the movie. The script. It basically plays out as a series of conversations between Robert Pattinson and various passengers in his stretched limousine. A Kiarostami film this ain’t, though. The conversations follow no actual rhythm or logic. Half the time the characters are speaking past each other with declarative statements and bizarre questions on topics of free-market capitalism, sex, anarchism and more. It’s unending, or it feels that way. Now, if these conversations sounded at all human, like the characters had any investment, that might’ve helped. It also might’ve helped had the conversations been more naturally concrete instead of sounding like out of context passages taken from philosophy and economics textbooks. Worse still, the script builds no drama into the story except for a supposed threat to Pattinson’s life. These conversations effectively happen in a vacuum, with no motivation or reason and without ever saying anything remotely worth listening to.
Maybe that terrible script could have worked, though. I highly doubt it, but I could almost imagine a director taking a satirical approach to the material. Heightening the film stylistically and through that style transforming and extracting some meaning from the void. Nope. Apparently Cronenberg was content to graft style in the form of ugly, weird camera angles and horrific editing. As far as I can tell, the cinematographer was asleep during the making of the film, which reflects in the absolutely terrible lighting in the film. And then there’s the green screen. I couldn’t always discern what was green screen and what wasn’t (thanks in part to the terrible lighting), but was frequently distracted by the green on actors’ faces and the dreadful looking background in the limousine windows. This would all be somewhat forgivable from a debut feature by a director who didn’t know what he was doing, but from the guy responsible for movies with low budgets and heavy effects like The Brood and Videodrome, you’d think he’d pay a bit more attention to how the film looked.
And it’s not just the visual style of the film that’s off. The whole film feels lazily put together. The camera placements look bad, but the way they are positioned and cut look like no thought was put into anything. Another area where no thought was placed was in location. The film is set in New York, but filmed in Toronto. This is nothing new. As a Torontonian it’s usually pretty easy to tell, and that’s a little distracting, but also a little fun. Usually, films that do this at least attempt to make Toronto resemble New York, even if only a little. Cronenberg didn’t bother at all. Well, no, sorry, he did do one thing. He placed a New York City trash can in every shot where someone is outside in the open. Bam! New York! Does it matter than by shooting Union Station from that angle it doesn’t look anything like any corner of New York? Does it matter that there are TTC streetcars passing by in various shots? Does it matter that University Avenue looks about as far from a potential New York location as anything in the entire city? None of it matters, apparently. And you may think I’m being nitpicky, and that most audiences wouldn’t notice or care, well, that’s not true either. You see, Cosmopolis is very specifically set in New York and the world of high finance. The details of the location aren’t important, but the sense of setting sure as hell is. The film lacks believability and much of that comes from a very false-looking setting.
Finally, we have the place where all these problems coalesce: the acting. It’s bad, I mean really bad. So utterly bad. I’m sure it was a directorial decision to have most of the actors speak with little-to-no emotion, but the effect is to make the characters come off as robots. And not fun, warm, relatable robots. There is nothing engaging about it. There’s nothing to latch on to. The conversations become as vapid aurally as their text must read. Robert Pattinson is atrocious. More wooden even than his stint as Edward the Sparkly Vampire. I would gladly lay the blame for his performance at his feet alone, except that everyone is bad. Literally everyone. His wife, played by Sarah Gadon is worse than Pattinson. So is Kevin Durand. Jay Baruchel is in it, but it’s like he was plucked from a different movie entirely. A bigger source of amazement is that Samantha Morton and Juliette Binoche are sucked into the vortex. That’s right. Morton and Binoche are in this movie and deliver bad performances. This movie, Cosmopolis, it did that. I’m pretty sure that’s a punishable offense in more civilized countries.
Cosmopolis is a shameful example of a film. It’s a film that, from my vantage, has nothing at all going for it. David Cronenberg should feel terrible for having it in his filmography. He should feel as excruciated as I felt just by watching it. I didn’t see the whole film, but when I looked at my watch and saw that I had more than a third of the film left to go, the thought of spending another torturous minute trapped in the world of Cosmopolis seemed to me worse than death. I had no choice. I couldn’t take it. A film so badly conceived, so badly acted, so badly made, and with so little care at all put into the end product is not befitting the time it would take to watch it in its entirety. Quite frankly, it’s not befitting the time I invested in it to begin with, and certainly wasn’t worth the money I paid to see it. A true shame.