Eric Packer wants a haircut. Played with somnambulistic sangfroid by Twilight’s Robert Pattinson, Packer’s a tech-era Manhattan billionaire whose business talk in Cosmopolis is as obtuse and impenetrable as much of Don DeLillo’s literary fiction. Makes sense, since David Cronenberg adapted his screenplay from DeLillio’s novel of the same name, but the end result comes off as Cronenberg’s reaction to the sentiment that DeLillo’s dense prose can’t be easily translated into film. Then again, Cronenberg is not a director to be daunted by a scenario in which the antihero spends most of his time in a stretch limo.
Turning it into a film that interests anyone beside Cronenberg connoisseurs and Twilight teens is another matter. Traffic is traveling at about a quarter-inch per hour because the president is in town. “Which president?” asks Packer of the head of his security detail, giving the first indication of how far into his own world Packer is immersed. A parade of visitors — including Jay Baruchel, Juliette Binoche, Mathieu Amalric and Samantha Morton — enter the limo to talk tech security, fuck, examine his prostate or discuss business in somewhat surreal terms. There have been threats on Packer’s life, but he is more fascinated than fearful.
The satire and symbolism are established early. The limo shields Packer from the economic-influenced chaos outside, but he’s unaffected as a mob trashes his car’s exterior. Nothing affects him, and traffic is so slow he can leave the car to meet his fiancée in the next lane or run into a diner with her for a quick bite. The journey only becomes more absurd as the tires turn, sometimes incomprehensively. Cronenberg takes great pains to take the claustrophobia out of limo living, and on that level he succeeds. But DeLillo takes great pains to impress the literary fiction cognoscenti, resulting in writing that may not lend well to screen adaption. Sometimes stories need to make more sense. MATT KELEMEN