Creative Destruction: Robert Pattinson in David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis

Creative Destruction: Robert Pattinson in David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis

New York Times journalist David Carr made the now infamously scorned Twilight star Robert Pattinson squirm in his seat Wednesday night during a TimesTalks interview that was intended to serve as an intellectual conversation about Pattinson’s latest film, Cosmopolis.

About an hour into the discussion, Carr tried to draw an analogy between Pattinson’s romantic woes with Twilight co-star Kristen Stewart and the famously troubled relationship between England’s Prince Charles and Diana, the late Princess of Wales. “So if you and Kristen have trouble it’s like Charles and Di having trouble?” Carr asked.

Carr’s question wasn’t completely out of context: Pattinson, who often seemed to be intellectually in over his head during the conversation, had to ask for questions to be repeated and admitted to losing track of his thoughts, had only moments before attempted to attribute America’s obsession with fame to the country’s desire for a monarchy.

I think it’s because America really wants to have a royal family,” Pattinson said, then going even further saying that America’s Hollywood royalty are just like the real royalty except “meritocratic.” He quickly backtracked on that somewhat slippery point, but it was too late: the analogy had been cast, and Carr appeared more than content to segue into Stewart.

Pattinson seemed unprepared; waiting a while to answer, it sounded as if he was breathing in backwards for a few moments. “Well, uh, Charles,” the star finally said, after looking down while awkwardly fingering his water bottle. Carr soon moved the conversation forward, stating, “I wasn’t really going there, just so you know.” “No, I wouldn’t go that far,” Pattinson answered.

Times Talks: David Carr with David Cronenberg and Robert Pattinson

Robert Pattinson in David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis

In David Cronenberg’s new film Cosmopolis, the Twilight series’ monumentally popular Robert Pattinson utterly lacks any sense of onscreen magnetism. Without the armor of his signature role, Mr. Pattinson’s speech is halting, his face blockishly blank and he seems aware that he doesn’t really belong in the kind of art films he’d like to make.

Yet, while Cronenberg’s film, based on the novel by Don DeLillo, does not feature a strong performance by Mr. Pattinson, he ends up being good for the movie. A more naturally gifted actor would not have served the story, which needs at its center someone who emphasizes the very stilted quality of each line and the whole enterprise’s distance from reality.

Mr. Pattinson plays Eric Packer, a man who works with money in a not-fully-defined capacity: he’s worried about the yuan. Mr. Packer’s eventful day makes up the plot of Cosmopolis, as the young man only occasionally departs his giant limousine. Cronenberg’s body-horror impulse is in full effect here, with the capacious limousine growing ever more claustrophobic and Eric ever more vulnerable to violation and attack.

The interior of the car is brilliantly shot in order to convey a sense of the car’s scope without ever showing its full space. The world Packer inhabits is so unsafe that to leave the car even to urinate is a great risk; so, too, is expressing any passion for the woman he brings into the car for sex. Mr. Pattinson doesn’t even remove an article of clothing for the liaison. When he finally gets the haircut he’s been driving vaguely toward all day long, it’s a half-shaved, half-long mess that looks like a Manhattanite’s idea of a Brooklynite and won’t win Pattinson any new fans.

David Cronenberg’s direction throughout Cosmopolis is impeccable, both inside the limo and out. Mr. Cronenberg keeps you rapt, even when the story and actors don’t. Some of this disengagement is certainly intentional. Taken as a commentary on the state of the world in the era of late capitalism, Cosmopolis can seem almost banal. But these banalities, which here are accompanied by glazed eyes, are also to the point: the world is burning, and all that some of us do is look at the flames with exhausted familiarity.

Robert Pattinson in David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis (Official Trailer)

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