Thursday, August 30, 2012

"Cosmopolis" isn't always clear, but always absorbing

I did not fully understand “Cosmopolis”, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. It ranks among “Mulholland Dr.” as one of those strange journeys through an off-kilter version of reality. “Mulholland Dr.” is the better movie, but “Cosmopolis” has the same ability to envelop the viewer in a dreamlike excursion. Robert Pattinson gets to display the widest acting skills of his career as Eric Packer, a billionaire financier who has just made the biggest mistake of his career by betting incorrectly against the yuan. As his fortune dwindles throughout the day, Eric is chauffeured in his stretch limo through the city. Reviews in “People” and “Us” have dismissed “Cosmopolis” as a movie entirely about a guy riding around while having inane conversations with random passengers. This is incredibly misleading. True, there are many scenes set inside the limousine during which conversations occur. There are also many scenes outside the limo taking place in restaurants, a bookstore, a nightclub, a barber shop, a taxi headquarters and other locations. It honestly feels as if only a third of the movie is set inside the limousine. To say the whole film is set here is similar to saying the entire film “Training Day” takes place inside the black Monte Carlo driven by Denzel Washington’s character while Ethan Hawke’s character rides shotgun. Furthermore, the conversations are often interesting and many of the exchanges are memorable and thoughtful. Characters discuss economic theories, monetary units, units of time, social revolution with an academic and amused aloofness. Whether viewers enjoy this is largely dependent on whether they find the topics of discussion interesting. This is not unlike any other movie or even an evening at a cocktail party in which a guest can be pleasant or interminable based on the subject of their conversation. One exchange between Eric and his wife Elisse (Sarah Gadon) is about cab drivers. She says to him she enjoys talking to the drivers to learn about where they come from. “They come from horror and despair,” he says. She replies one can learn a lot about the horrors of the world this way. In addition to good dialogue, the movie is full of narrowly drawn, but captivating characters played strongly by talented actors. Because each character joining Packer in his limo is in the movie for a short time, there isn’t much opportunity to learn about their story, but this doesn’t stop most of them from leaving an indelible impression. Most of the passengers are associates of Packer and they are not villainous, nor are they endearing. One glimpse of a life outside Packer’s world of high finance comes from a co-worker who was called to a meeting in the car on her day off. Wearing workout clothes with her hair pulled back and sweat on her face, Jane (Emily Hampshire) explains she’d been jogging in the park on her day off when her phone rang. She thought there might be an emergency involving her child and the nanny was calling. This conversation occurs while a doctor performs Packer’s daily medical exam. He observes she is clutching her water bottle and tells her it is indicative of sexual tension. Other characters in the limo are played by Jay Baruchel, Samantha Morton and Juliette Binoche and each encounter offers a piece of Packer’s life. While several scenes occur inside the limo, there is a rich display of detail. Baruchel’s character grabs an ice-cold bottled beverage from a cylindrical cooler with a glass door. Pattinson relaxes in a large throne-like chair in the back of the stretch. LCD screens and panels cover many inches of the interior and trading information graphs are visible in bright lights. No outside sound enters the vehicle, making the audience an additional passenger and bringing viewers closer to the characters. As stated before, “Cosmopolis” is not easily decipherable upon a single viewing, but it’s not easy to forget. It’s also one of the few movies this summer worth revisiting.