“Any assault on the limits of perception will seem brash at first,” says Eric Packer, the confident, self-destructive, limousine-driving finance man at the heart of David Cronenberg’s 2012 Don DeLillo adaptation “Cosmopolis.” The character talks about currency speculation, but he might as well be talking about the actor who plays him: Robert Pattinson, then known to the public as Edward Cullen, the co-main protagonist of the “Twilight” franchise, and to the public now. if not merely a Batman, but the batman. (And the co-protagonist of the “Twilight” franchise.)
At 10 years old, ‘Cosmopolis’ is a footnote in Cronenberg’s career and a pivotal moment in Pattinson’s. Before its 2012 Cannes premiere, Pattinson starred in such films as “Little Ashes” (a romantic drama about Salvador Dalí’s love affair with Federico García Lorca), “Remember Me” (a romantic drama that ends in the World Trade Center on the morning of 9/11) and “Water for Elephants” (a romantic drama set in a circus that frankly plays like a circus itself) earned him negligible accolades compared to the “Twilight” movies, which did not universally distinguish him, for the better . Slant Magazine described Pattinson in “Twilight” as an “empty, pasty-faced, fire-haired Gap model”; The Austin Chronicle said his “cheekbones always get in the way of the story”; Slate semi-praised his performance at the expense of Catherine Hardwicke’s filmmaking, writing that Pattinson “doesn’t seem to have been given much direction other than ‘melt the camera with your eyes’.”
As the ‘Twilight’ movies went on, Pattinson’s announcements thinned out, leading to his near absence from reviews from the property’s capper, ‘The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2′, which hit theaters in fall 2012. popped up. (His co-star, Kristen Stewart, received most of the critics’ attention.) The conclusion of “Twilight” liberated Pattinson from his image as Edward Cullen, but “Cosmopolis” allowed him to make a fresh start, with a stage (and a stretch limousine) to discover his talent in ways his previous roles didn’t allow him.
Stylized, strange, and too eager to make his point about the financial elite and reckless capitalism during Occupy Wall Street, “Cosmopolis” pitted Pattinson against contemporary screen titans (Juliette Binoche, Paul Giamatti); gave him an awkward dialogue about everything from Eric’s gastrointestinal health to his mother-in-law’s physique; and put him in situations, from kinky to violent to repulsive, way out of his reach as a YA heartthrob. Eric has savage casual sex with Binoche’s character, Didi Fancher, in the limo, has his prostate examined in the limo and in one of the film’s rare scenes Outside the limo, has athletic casual sex with his bodyguard, Kendra (Patricia McKenzie), then orders her to shoot him with her stun gun. “I’m looking for more,” he rasps at her from crumpled sheets. “Show me something I don’t know.”
Again, “Cosmopolis” gives the feeling that Pattinson is talking about Pattinson. Perhaps, after a runaway franchise, Pattinson felt like he had something to prove. By his estimate, 75 percent of his appearance in the “Twilight” movies came from his hair. No wonder he jumped on a movie about a man driving through New York City to see his hairdresser. Eric’s ‘do’ is understated from the start – smooth, tight and controlled, much like Pattinson’s performance. Determined, he masks Eric’s inner doubts with a stiff outer bravado that is quickly undone by the film’s climax. Everywhere, Pattinson shows flashes of the actor he can be with the right material and the right director. The next decade often gave him both.
He has appeared in a slew of independent films by accomplished authors and forward-thinking modern directors: David Michôd’s “The Rover”, Werner Herzog’s “Queen of the Desert”, James Gray’s “The Lost City of Z”, Brady Corbet’s “Childhood of a Leader” , “Good Time” by the Safdie brothers, “Damsel” by the Zellner brothers, “The Lighthouse” by Robert Eggers, “High Life” by Claire Denis. (He also collaborated again with Cronenberg in 2014 for “Maps to the Stars .”) Rather than dividing commercial success into roles befitting his celebrity, Pattinson took the money and ran, in movies most of his fans almost certainly don’t watch, or know, without his involvement (and probably not even) of the). He didn’t play it safe in his career. He got weird.
“Cosmopolis” showed everyone who saw the potential that Pattinson couldn’t demonstrate within the confines of the “Twilight” movies, and he has since realized that potential in countless roles. There are certainly traces of Eric Packer in, for example, Samuel Alabaster, the stripped-down, wealthy pioneer of “Damsel”; in Ephraim Winslow, the overambitious lighthouse keeper aspiring to “The Lighthouse”; or in Connie Nikas, the “Good Time” character, who shares both Eric’s surrender and apathy for bystanders who cross his path.
After making the most of his ‘Twilight’ power working on unusual, elusive and just plain old bizarre indie movies, Pattinson has returned to something familiar: franchise blockbusters. Matt Reeves’ movie “The Batman” in a way takes Pattinson back to his roots. (Cronenberg, by a happy coincidence, has remained simpatico with Pattinson by returning to his) own roots, body horror, in his new movie, “Crimes of the Future.”) The superficial similarities of “The Batman” to “Twilight” are matched by some substantive similarities to “Cosmopolis”; like Cronenberg’s film, Reeves’ film is about a man too young to possess as much wealth as he is, who is driven in part by lingering grief over his late father. But that’s where the comparisons between these two films end.
Under the laws of franchise maintenance, Pattinson will once again star as the Dark Knight in an inevitable sequel, but due to the lessons learned in “Cosmopolis”, he will most likely make unusual choices again soon. Those are the choices that define him now, not ‘Twilight’ and not ‘The Batman’. All he needed was to climb into a limousine and take Cronenberg for a ride.
“Cosmopolis” is available to stream on Amazon†