Maybe you can help me understand where David Cronenberg's career is going. Sure, you're probably booking his tickets to Cannes, Venice, and other prestigious film festivals, but onscreen he seems to be stuck. He's in the top 1% of his class, making decisions that are both bold and pointless, while calmly circulating with a gang of elite peers trying to get on board with him. Cosmopolis, it seems, might be more of a metaphor about his own career than it is about the state of American capitalism.
But you're not in show business, you're in the travel business. So let's start by looking at the actors you flew in for production. Robert Pattinson is perfectly suited to play a stolid billionaire quickly losing his fortune--along with his will to live. Sarah Gadon is probably the film's second star, based on her tangled relationship with the protagonist. But after that's it's a toss up: Juliette Binoche, Samantha Morton, Jay Baruchel, Matthieu Amalaric, Paul Giamatti and others all get a scene in which they try to get through to the robot-talking sociopath hell-bent on getting a haircut while the city is under lockdown. Clearly the film is trying to go somewhere more profound than that, but it takes an exhaustive route.
Thematically, Cosmopolis is structured like a traditional road movie. Large portions are set in a car, and while a destination supposedly drives the plot forward, it's the rotating cast of characters along the way that defines the journey. But instead of sweeping landscapes and open opportunities, we get a decidedly un-cosmopolitan claustrophobic tale in a poorly-substituted New York (the opening shot in front of Union Station will take anyone familiar with the urban Toronto landscape out of the story before it even gets rolling). Keeping the city anonymous might have helped the cause, since we never see more than 20 feet out of a car window anyway.
These technical deficiencies are some of the film's most glaring faults. For the past decade, Cronenberg has been making an unflattering move into the realm of filmed theatre. Sure, every film student studies the deep focus shots in Citizen Kane, but they involved complex compositions; here we get a lot of heads and no focal point, which gives Cosmopolis even more of a play-like sensibility than A Dangerous Method. His uncomfortable insistence on wide-angle close-ups also could be considered distinctly cinematic, but their overuse renders them ineffective.
In a nutshell, Cronenberg needs to take a break. He's out of touch with his own talents and seems to be having some sort of late-life crisis. Please make sure when you book his next trip that he gets some time to himself. To think, to relax, to remember what he loved about filmmaking in the first place. Cosmopolis makes it clear that he needs to start spending more time in cinema seats and less on the red carpet.
Admiring you from afar,