Thursday, August 10, 2017

Theory Thursday: "Cosmopolis" (2012) is Underrated

Scene from Cosmopolis
Welcome to a weekly column called Theory Thursdays, which will be released every Thursday and discuss my "controversial opinion" related to something relative to the week of release. Sometimes it will be birthdays while others is current events or a new film release. Whatever the case may be, this is a personal defense for why I disagree with the general opinion and hope to convince you of the same. While I don't expect you to be on my side, I do hope for a rational argument. After all, film is a subjective medium and this is merely just a theory that can be proven either way. 

Subject: Good Time is released in theaters this Friday.
Theory: Cosmopolis (2012) is underrated.

While it's enough to be excited for any new A24 release, I am especially looking forward to the latest from co-directors Ben and Josh Safdie ("The Safdie Brothers") called Good Time. The trailers have an excellent sheen of grittiness to them, and the general story looks to be a perfect antidote to the summer's excellent blockbusters. It's in large part because I do think that Heaven Knows What is one of the best indie films of 2015. Their ability to turn a story about homeless people addicted to drugs into a powerful and unique narrative is a thankless task in this modern age. Good Time at least looks to be tonally similar to their previous film, and may end up being even better if the film is as good as those trailers.

Another reason seems more controversial: Robert Pattinson. While the world is only five years removed from Twilight movies, there's still this astigmatism attached to the franchise that makes having rational discussions almost into their own black hole. I still have issues telling people that Kristen Stewart is a great actress (if you haven't seen Personal Shopper, please do) because of how bland her mainstream work has been. Pattinson has been kind of worse in the sense that he hasn't necessarily won the hearts of Cannes or necessarily had a role as memorable as Edward Cullen. He has been active, but he's also someone who hasn't quite gotten close to being even on my outside chances on the Oscar radar. Still, there have been a few films that show that maybe he's more of an interesting actor than we credit him with. For that, I turn to director David Cronenberg's Cosmopolis.

I'll admit that I have my own controversial views on Cronenberg. I'm not big on body horror and actually prefer his more recent work, if just because of how more creative he's become. That includes adapting the black comedy that is Don Delilo's source material, which essentially sees a dissection of capitalism as Pattinson drives around in a limo on his way to get a haircut. You'd figure that a set so limited would make for a boring story. However, Delilo's book is much more expansive and perverse than getting stuck in traffic. There's bizarre imagery regarding protesters. There's a jarring scene featuring Paul Giamatti. The world of Cosmopolis is not shy of being at very least one of the richest Cronenberg landscapes of recent years. Yes, it has body horror. It also has existential crises regarding finances and order. What's even better is that it's not nearly as condescending as something like The Big Short.

At the center is Pattinson, who starred in this film the same year that the final Twilight film came out. Anyone expecting subjective continuity would be greatly disappointed - even if both feature "gruesome" injuries. While this isn't his first major dramatic role since fame, it may be one of the first to show his potential beyond quiet love interest. He was allowed to play an unpleasant character with weird fetishes. He was allowed to push into a more demented character who didn't have a studio restraint to be a Hollywood hunk. What he had was the chance to do what few great actors with good looks would want to do: play against type. He was going to play ugly, and that was mostly in terms of personality. The film is too disturbing to have ever won over awards contenders (and frankly the general reception suggests it stood even less of a chance). It even feels like it has been disregarded as minor Cronengerg. It's a fair assessment, but you can't mistake Pattinson for not trying. 

It takes a lot of effort to pull off a disconnected individual. It's the general blame that actors like Ryan Gosling, Armie Hammer, or Scarlett Johansson get for their quieter roles. People want expressive performances that say a lot. However, I do think that Pattinson's ability to look disaffected out a window at chaos is, at very least, more poignant than if he panicked. It's not in his character. The whole film is about trying to find a feeling beyond his insular world. He is a reserved symbol of power, and that is important to depict properly. Rich people can't just be eccentric. They must have some calm where others don't. Why? They have the means to get out of any issue.

It also helps that the film is rooted in one of those rich philosophical debates formats that movies love to do. It gives Pattinson a chance to act and enunciate words in a way that gives off a deeper understanding of character. For a film as demented as Cosmopolis, it has the grounded performance of Pattinson to thank. It also helps that he has pretty boy looks, but he's also someone who has a sneer in his eye, as if he's Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver about to explode. It becomes just as exciting to see what that moment will be. This is so fascinating given that most of the events take place in a limo where the action comes to him, and he's just waiting to do the most mundane task imaginable. 

I will admit that I haven't seen much else form his post-Twilight days. His other film with Cronenberg, Maps to the Stars, is possibly more divisive and strange. However, he shows a cool  in these roles that shows what kind of charisma he can bring to a film. I get the impression that he's got potential to take on great dangerous roles in the future. Maybe within 10 years, he will be seen as something greater like Stewart was (still holding out on Taylor Lautner, there). For now, he's at least doing roles that aren't limited to what he's done before. They're more interesting and challenging than what he's done. Thankfully, Good Times looks to be another step in the right direction and since it did well at Cannes, odds are that it will at least do well in the indie community. If it doesn't do anything else, I hope it gets everyone to watch Heaven Knows What. It's a really good movie.

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