Cannes 2012: With ‘Cosmopolis,’ Rob Pattinson seeks acting cred

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‘Twilight’ stars Kristen Stewart and Rob Pattinson have sex multiple times in Cannes (separately, and on screen) but it’s a very different kind of lovemaking. As Marylou, Dean Moriarty’s wife in ‘On the Road,’ Stewart’s sex is uninhibited and hedonistic. As Eric Packer, the troubled Wall Street Master of the Universe in ‘Cosmopolis,’ Pattinson’s sex is mechanical and joyless, as if he’s trying to exorcise some unhappiness instead of simply indulging in pleasure.

Audiences got a glimpse of that exorcism on Friday when the David Cronenberg-directed ‘Cosmopolis’ premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. The contrast in the ‘Twilight’ stars’ bedroom manner proved telling.


‘On the Road’ is a free-form depiction of an era and has won largely plaudits at Cannes. ‘Cosmopolis’ is a claustrophobic look at a troubled billionaire who is watching the world implode around him from his limousine, and it landed far more mixed responses from critics and festival-goers. Some thought it a timely, idea-driven gem, while a far larger number saw in it a purposelessness reminiscent of Packer’s moments in flagrante.

Based on Don DeLillo’s dialogue-heavy novella, ‘Cosmopolis’ tells of Packer, a billionaire financier in New York who undertakes the simple task of having his limo driver escort him to a barber across town, despite vague threats on Packer’s life and, possibly, the larger world. For all the intrigue and respect he elicits, this isn’t a man who’s liked very much; that’s what you get for climbing to the top of the corporate heap, or, maybe, for becoming the world’s biggest teen idol.

The setting is typical Cronenberg, a place that looks much like our world but somehow isn’t quite. As the trip unfolds, the billionaire, speaking in that Cronenbergian flat affect, entertains a host of acquaintances who pop in and out of his limo, often to talk about things like technocapitalism and its wonders (per Packer) or dangers (per others, and perhaps the film as a whole). These guests both in the limo and outside it (Sarah Gadon, Emily Hampshire and Paul Giamatti co-star) engage in elliptical exchanges with Packer about their views of the universe, often in turns of DeLillo-ian eloquence and/or impenetrability.

‘What I’d liked about the script originally was its lyricism,’ Pattinson said at a press conference after the debut screening. ‘It’s like you’re doing songs instead of movies.’

Cronenberg, who with ‘Cosmopolis’ has written a feature-length script for the first time in 13 years, added that adapting DeLillo was like covering a Dylan tune. ‘Everybody knows the words,’ he said, but you can change the register and the pitch. He said he wanted to remain exceedingly faithful to the book in both setting and dialogue as he composed the script, which he said took him only six days to write. As for the baggage his star brings, Cronenberg said that Pattinson’s character is a “real person with a history and a past. The history and the past isn’t ‘Twilight.’ It’s ‘Cosmopolis.’” The film’s slight story line has already frustrated many filmgoers at Cannes, as has the fact that many of the ideas seem to be pretty esoteric. If there’s a larger theme to ‘Cosmopolis’ it’s of a globe stretched to the breaking point by capitalism. Protesters attack Packer’s car with rats while, later, Packer’s poor treatment of an underling begins to catch up with him.

There’s a certain prescience to these elements: Cronenberg wrote the script before the Occupy movement took hold, and DeLillo published the novella fully nine years ago. ‘My own work has [always] been about living in dangerous times,’ DeLillo said at the press conference.


The film may seem to take a bleak view of what technology and finance are doing to the world, but Cronenberg called it an optimistic movie. His star agreed. ‘It’s about the end of the world but it’s also hopeful,’ Pattinson said. ‘Maybe I’m just a depressive, but I think sometimes the world needs to be washed and cleansed.’

Whatever the film’s message, it certainly allows for the flashing of plenty of actorly skills — more so than a movie that calls for an actor to mope around as a lovelorn vampire a la Edward Cullen, and more so than many other films, for that matter. Pattinson is on screen nearly every one of the 108 minutes of Cronenberg’s surrealscape, and he is asked to pull off a difficult mix of unctuousness and nervousness, which, on first viewing, he mostly does.

Audiences will be the ultimate arbiter of whether it’s a memorable turn that demands another--Pattinson would doubtless like to use this film to springboard him beyond ‘Twilight’--but his director, at least, believes he has. ‘The essence of cinema,’ Cronenberg said of Pattinson’s performance, ‘is a fantastic face saying fantastic words.’


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--Steven Zeitchik