The ridiculous limousine moves across the city in ‘traffic that speaks in quarter inches’. Inside a multi-multi billionaire discusses his life, methods and philosophy with a revolving cast of intelligent, quotable characters. He wants a haircut. He sometimes get out of the car to have sex or to talk to his wife. He does not have sex with his wife. A revolution of sorts starts around him. But he still ploughs on. So much ennui. So much conversation. So much determination for a haircut. Welcome to the world of David Cronenberg: everything about this film is perfect in that it does everything it sets out to do but when it deliberately removes any emotional connection is it possible to actually like the result?
Eric Packer is played by Robert Pattinson. You must have heard of R-Patz. Here he’s a different kind of vampire. An amoral, disinterested corporate bloodsucker. His wealth is taking a pounding because of the yuan. “It can’t rise any higher,” he says. “And yet it does,” comes the reply. Much of what he says is quotable because the film (and presumably the book by DeLillo from which it is adapted) has its characters speak in exceptionally quotable lines delivered with just the right level of gravitas. If I were a student I’d love this. “Talent is more erotic when it is wasted”. I’d probably have that on my bedroom door.
In support of Pattinson, Cronenberg can call on some very big hitters. Juliet Binoche is the one who says the line above. Then there is Samantha Morton and Paul Giamatti, and a whole host of folk who you’ll recognise. Possibly from other Cronenberg films. I was a bit disappointed to see no Don McKellar but that’s because I’d watch him recite the phone book. Everyone has something to say about different aspects of life both corporate and emotional. This isn’t a political film and despite what it has to ‘say’ about the banality of corporate evil it isn’t especially angry. The direction is detached. Look at this, it says, look at the superficiality of intelligence.
There is a lot to enjoy. Some of it is actually quite funny. But the difficulty comes when it’s finished and the question comes back: did you care about any of that? Obviously, in many ways the characters themselves didn’t so why should the viewer? The answer should come back: not for a single second did I give a shit about what happened to any of these people. But for the time I spent with them on their journey of quarter inch by quarter inch across the city I liked having the opportunity to listen in and watch – to study them clinically as they moved sometimes knowingly, sometimes unknowingly, through crises both small and large.
Which is, after all, a very Cronenbergian conclusion.