Robert Pattinson may never prove to be a great actor, but if there were an Oscar for Best Credibility-Enhancing Career Move, he’d have it in the bag. As affectless billionaire Eric Packer, the protagonist of David Cronenberg’s sometimes thrilling, sometimes frustrating adaptation of Don DeLillo’s novel Cosmopolis, Pattinson nails the very tricky, precise tone demanded by the novel’s unapologetically inhuman dialogue. Like the book, the film follows Packer as he undergoes a day-long odyssey across Manhattan in a gigantic stretch limo in order to get a haircut he doesn’t even need, encountering a gaggle of employees, assassins and random hot chicks en route. There’s no story to speak of, just a series of financial and philosophical conversations delivered at rapid-fire speed; it’s not important that you understand what’s being said so much as recognize how a particular mode of communication can both reflect and influence the way people think.
The more abstract and overtly stylized Cosmopolis is—as when Packer discusses abstruse metaphysical ideas with his chief theorist (Samantha Morton)—the better it “works,” at least as an intellectual exercise. Overall, the English and Canadian actors get it, but the Americans don’t quite, which becomes especially problematic in the film’s long final scene, featuring Paul Giamatti at his most irascible. Giamatti’s character is admittedly intended as a contrast to the others, but introducing genuine human feeling into this antiseptic bubble-world doesn’t provide the intended catharsis. Only slow deflation.