By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
Since the great financial collapse of ‘08, have you noticed how economists have been talking about banks and businesses “getting a haircut” to balance their books? The colorful phrase means that we all have to submit to a trim in these leaner times.
How fitting, then, that the central character in “Cosmopolis,” a mega-wealthy Wall Street assets manager (what a job title!) decides he wants a haircut, on a day of urban gridlock. A literal haircut is what he seeks, although he’s going to get the financial kind as the day goes along.
“Cosmopolis” is a new film directed by David Cronenberg, who adapted Don DeLillo’s short novel. For the role of the young billionaire, Cronenberg has “Twilight” heartthrob Robert Pattinson, which must count as a deeply subversive piece of casting: Think of all those fans checking this movie out only to discover an intellectual exercise meant for the arthouse.
It’ll either inspire many walk-outs, or some consciousness-raising. Either way, the casting works. Pattinson might not be a great actor yet, but he captures the vacancy of this 21st-century character (and the association of a vampire with a Wall Street trader is not such a big leap).
This character, Eric Packer, is traveling in his super-tricked-out limousine to find a barbershop, but it’s going to take all day to cross the city. A variety of advisers spends time in the car with him, and so does his newlywed bride (Sarah Gadon), who seems to have a sardonic attitude toward her man.
Eric also gets out of his car for brief stops, and eventually he does find the barber, as well as the home of a crackpot (Paul Giamatti, sleazed up) who’s been paying ominous attention to Eric’s progress across the city.
Even with the trips outside the limo, a lot takes place inside, including a sexual transaction with an art consultant (Juliette Binoche) and an uncomfortable examination from a doctor.
Through all of this, it’s made clear that Eric is in the process of losing hundreds of millions of dollars, because of a monetary fluctuation on the world markets.
There’s also a riot developing in the street outside, which might be Occupy-related, or a sign of an even more sinister apocalypse.
Cronenberg’s happy to leave those things unresolved, and in some ways the movie feels related to “The Dark Knight Rises,” in that it stirs up lots of issues without quite spelling out its purpose.
If the movie’s meaning is ambiguous, Cronenberg’s skill is razor-sharp. The vacuum-like silence of the limo’s interior, protecting Eric Packer from the actual world, is loud in its definition of his remoteness. It’s as scary as anything in Cronenberg’s horror movies.
A Wall Street vampire (Robert Pattinson) takes a limo ride to get a haircut, a daylong journey that coincides with the crashing of his fortune, a scenario that director David Cronenberg uses to suggest the vacancy of this character and of the unreal world in which such life-and-death catastrophes happen on a whim.
Rated: R for language, violence, nudity.
Showing: Meridian, Varsity.