Oh dear, I have a problem. It had to happen eventually, I suppose – David Cronenberg delivering a dud. As regular Picturenose readers will probably be aware by now, Cronenberg is one of my all-time favourite directors, with his 1970s body-horrors such as Shivers (1975) and The Brood (1979) having helped make me a fan of the genre for life, and his sublime A History of Violence (2005) and the almost-as-good Eastern Promises (2007) managing to fulfill the promise the director demonstrated with works such as Videodrome (1982) and Spider (2002).
And the promise of a Cronenberg-Don DeLillo collaboration was, it must be said, mouth-watering – the writer of the novel Cosmopolis has also given the world such post-modern masterpieces as Libra (the Kennedy assassination, told from the point-of-view of his assassin(s)) and White Noise (modern life? Don’t go there) and if there is one mood that Cronenberg has proven himself more than capable of delivering, it’s post-modern chill.
And here? I am sorry, but it just doesn’t gel. Robert Pattinson plays Eric Packer, a 28-year-old money-market billionaire (this is technically sci-fi, but they do exist in the real world, more’s the pity) who has decided that his hair needs a trim so, in spite of the New York traffic being backed up big-time because of the US president’s visit and his security team delivering regular bulletins of escalating threats to his life, he chooses to ride through Manhattan in his stretch limo/office/house to reach his favourite coiffeur. From his eerily silent transport, we see a view on an economy in disintegration, brought to the brink by players like Packer, who is the target of multiple demonstrations involving ‘the rat’ being presented as the new world currency. We also get an insight into Packer’s emotional and sex life, with guests such as Didi Fancher (a very sexy Juliette Binoche, seriously, how come she is still this hot?) and his ‘wife’ Elise (Sarah Gadon) who is refusing to have sex with her man, and a daily check-up from Dr. Ingram (Bob Bainborough), who informs Packer that his prostate is asymmetrical (whatever that may mean, ulp!).
Packer doesn’t know it yet, but he is headed for a rendez-vous with one Benno Levin (Paul Giamatti), who may yet inject a little fire into his sterile, wealth-saturated but largely pointless existence.
I know, I know, sounds intriguing, doesn’t it? And there is nothing wrong with any of the performances – no, the problem lies with the script.
Perhaps it proves that DeLillo’s work may in fact be unfilmable, given that a writer-director of Cronenberg’s stature has not been able to deliver on it, but there is the impression from the word go that DC is only interested in tying his viewers up in semantic knots. As the Divine C said, after watching the film with me: ‘I am just about alright watching this at home, but if I had seen it at the cinema, I would have been really pissed off.’
Essentially, Cronenberg has tried to convert a novel that should only be played out in the cinema of the mind into real (reel?) time, and has unfortunately succeeded only in distancing his audience from characters and compassion. A pity.