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'Cosmopolis' review: Robert Pattinson's most interesting performance by a mile

*** (out of four)

None of Robert Pattinson’s roles have fully lined up with his shifty absent-mindedness. In “Twilight,” he tries to make Edward mysterious and tortured, but comes off as vacant. In this year’s “Bel Ami,” he plays a social climber without any of the perspective or charisma that would have justified the romantic opportunities he unconvincingly obtains.

In writer-director David Cronenberg’s disturbing, oddly funny “Cosmopolis,” Pattinson’s inherent, detached restlessness finally becomes an asset. In many ways, billionaire Eric Packer (Pattinson), the 28-year-old head of Packer Capital, lives at a distance from those around him. He spends most of his time in his stretch limo, comfortably removed from anarchist protestors outside. Eric’s had the car adjusted to quiet the noise outside, and he barely flinches at the bumpiness caused by people pushing his moving status symbol. As the 99 percent rage and re-purpose a poem in which rats become currency, Eric rides in the first-class section of capitalism’s upper echelon, less interested in the people who work for him than the desire to put a heliport on his roof.

Cronenberg’s adaptation of Don DeLillo’s novel suffers from persistent chattiness. “Cosmopolis” constantly presents characters (played by pros including Juliette Binoche and Samantha Morton), often while talking with Eric in his car, directly discussing financial issues and other blunt subjects regarding personal worth and time-management. Those scenes can feel like a play, not a movie, in which people's conversations are a verbal means of looking in the mirror.

Yet “Cosmopolis,” which at times recalls “American Psycho” and “Shame,” never bores. It’s profoundly attuned to the desperate, ironic tragedy of recycled viciousness—Paul Giamatti plays a mystery man who may have it out for Eric—and the futility of discussion after the fact. When Vija (Morton) comments that an aggressive act lacks originality, Eric responds, “What’s original? He did it, didn’t he?”

The guy’s arrogance frequently comes off as an act; he uses money as self-defense and covets sex like a commodity to be negotiated over, urging, “There isn’t time not to have it” as if his chances may disappear at any time. (For the same reason, he schedules a daily doctor’s appointment, including a prostate exam in the limo.) Simultaneously Eric acts as if treating problems like they don’t matter means they don’t. He’s a child earning the salary of thousands of adults, and Pattinson finds just the right mix of power and weakness.

Certainly, when Eric’s friend Shiner (Jay Baruchel) asks, “Do you ever get the feeling sometimes that you don’t know what’s going on?,” it’s hard not to think of Pattinson’s recent personal troubles. Hopefully the actor can bounce back from Kristen Stewart’s infidelity; with the exciting, dangerous “Cosmopolis” he at last proves he deserves roles, not just headlines.

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com. @mattpais

 

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