It is, on the surface, the most improbable of creative collaborations. Teen idol Robert Pattinson linking up with David Cronenberg, regent of body horror cinema and the man who made Geena Davis give birth to a maggot in The Fly. Both men can be seen to be gambling, spying greater rewards ahead. But can an adaptation of Don DeLillo's Cosmopolis deliver the payoff each desires?
Pattinson and Cronenberg, Cronenberg and Pattinson – it is a combination which becomes scarcely less surprising each time you see it there before you. One is often cited as the greatest Canadian director of all-time and indeed one of the most important and influential in global terms too, with a Légion d’honneur and the Cannes Film Festival’s lifetime achievement award, the Carosse d’Or, amongst his galaxy of accolades.
To be fair, the much-younger other has accumulated his own fair share of trophies as well, although his, to date, have tended to be more of the MTV Movie Award for Best Kiss variety, as opposed to prestigious cultural honours from the French government. True also to say that he enjoys a far less unilaterally positive critical reputation than his new directorial mentor.
For while Cronenberg may have endured his fair share of barbs and brickbats down the years, it is difficult to believe he too often faces the kind of vituperative assaults on his professional competence that Pattinson is forced to endure pretty much any time a movie comes out with him in it. See, for example, The Playlist's review of Remember Me ('Pattinson has mastered an American accent, but he should focus on actually acting. Squinting does not count'), or Slash Film's review of Twilight ('Pattinson spends most of the movie with a look on his face that's a cross between Zoolander's “blue steel” and a person trying to stave off a diarrhoeal attack').
1. Cronenberg's new leading man
The seeming improbability of the union was emphasised by the wider reaction when news first came through, just over a month ago, that Pattinson would be stepping in for Colin Farrell as leading man in Cosmopolis, based on the 2003 novel of the same name by Don DeLillo, and the latest venture behind the camera for Cronenberg. The director's disciples were aghast at the development, spitting nails and feathers alike that their filmmaking deity would sully himself by associating with a guy best known for making adolescent girls feel a bit funny in the tummy.
This spew of vitriol was not matched by an equivalent stream from the worshippers of R-Patz, although there would surely have been no little bemusement elicited from any prompted to explore the back catalogue of the man their heartthrob of choice would be acting for. Forget about feeling a bit funny in the tummy, a Cronenberg movie is more likely to have venereal parasites slithering around down there (Shivers), or perhaps the opening of a vagina-like slit into which objects can be inserted (Videodrome).
So what then does Cronenberg hope to achieve by selecting as his latest leading man a pasty-skinned Brit whose innate charisma has been unfavourably compared with that of a squashed canapé? In turn, what does Pattinson seek to gain by enlisting for a tour of duty with a director whose previous protagonists have included murderers, lunatics and a woman with a mutant penis growing from her armpit (Rabid)?
And what are the worldwide network of Patt-olytes, united in their adoration of self-denying vampire Edward Cullen, going to make of their dreamboat in a role which, if it adheres to DeLillo's source book, will see him repeatedly cheating on his wife, shooting a man dead in cold blood, and delivering the line “I want to bottle-fuck you slowly with my sunglasses on”?
2. Cosmopolis cast takes shape
July 2009 was when it was announced that David Cronenberg would be handling a big screen version of Cosmopolis, first published in 2003 and one of the slender, slightly more reader-friendly volumes Don DeLillo has produced since his 1997 epic, Underworld. Having already 'filmed the unfilmable' in 1991, when he presided over a version of William Burroughs' Naked Lunch which proved divisive as far as fans of that book were concerned, Cronenberg was clearly not a man to be intimidated by the challenge of redeeming DeLillo in the eyes of Hollywood.
That the novelist should require redeeming was certainly not as the result of any questioning of his artistic powers – the septuagenarian can count upon more supporters than most should there ever be some kind of ballot to determine the identity of America's greatest living author. It was instead more down to an attitude exuded by the motion picture industry, the sense that it was unsure how best to wrangle DeLillo's often labyrinthine writings into vehicles with broad enough appeal to turn a profit, yet not so diluted as to sacrifice the essence of what made them worthwhile in the first place.
Cronenberg tasked himself with the first step in the process of converting DeLillo's prose into celluloid magic, as he adapted the latter's book into screenplay form and thereby ensured that Cosmopolis would be his first self-scripted outing since his 1999 career nadir, eXistenZ. And despite the director already being committed to A Dangerous Method, there was still significant progress on the Cosmopolis front within twelve months of the original announcement of Cronenberg's involvement, as a teaser poster was released, a shooting start date of March 2011 was set, and Colin Farrell and Marion Cotillard were named as the two leads.
Both of those casting choices appeared astute. If not quite having crashed out where the cocaine superhighway meets the shit-choice-of-roles roundabout, then Colin Farrell had certainly been doing some very reckless manoeuvring near both for several of the last few years, only for it to be generally agreed that In Bruges - and the Best Actor Golden Globe which his turn in that movie earned him – had set him firmly back on the right track.
Cotillard, meanwhile, had already secured an Oscar the year before her prospective co-star had got his gilded bauble, for La Vie en Rose, and since then she had made hay in the Hollywood sun, playing prominent roles in Michael Mann's Public Enemies, deluxe screen musical Nine, and the then-upcoming Inception. So, good actors both, and seemingly decent fits too for their proposed roles – he as Manhattan billionaire Eric Packer; she as Packer's wife, Elise Schifrin.
3. Exit Colin Farrell...
If all seemed in its right place for a spring 2011 shoot which will reportedly visit both New York (where Cosmopolis is set) and Cronenberg's home city of Toronto, then that veneer of order was fatally cracked within the first few days of this year. That was when Farrell felt an artistic calling far stronger than the one exerted by David and Don, as he bailed from Cosmopolis in favour of playing the lead in a remake of Total Recall for Columbia Pictures and director Len Wiseman (director of Underworld, a film very far removed from DeLillo's book of the same name).
Cronenberg could easily have been forgiven for grinding his teeth in frustration at this development, though he surely too must have been tempted to raise a wry smile. For not only had he himself spent an ultimately fruitless year in the mid-80s tinkering with the first incarnation of Total Recall for the late Dino DeLaurentiis (“I wanted it to work out so badly that I pretended it could” rued the director years later), but he had also gone through the nth-hour withdrawal of a key actor on A Dangerous Method, with that actor also having departed to partake in a bigger-budget production of seeming intellectual inferiority.
The frantically defenestrating actor back then was Christoph Waltz, who in the words of Cronenberg “copped out basically to do a Hollywood movie”. And it is hard to argue with that withering assessment when a performer departs an independent production based on a play about founding fathers of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, in favour of playing a circus trainer in a starry, lavishly-budgeted coming of age tale, directed by Francis 'I Am Legend' Lawrence.
But if the director had been miffed about Waltz's dumping of Freud for fluff, in the shape of Lawrence's Water for Elephants, then it was the Austrian Oscar-winner's young co-star in that latter movie to whom Cronenberg would immediately turn now that he faced a casting crisis on Cosmopolis – that co-star being none other than one Robert Pattinson.
4. ...pursued by Marion Cotillard
“I said yes as soon as he called,” said Pattinson to MTV when asked about his sudden drafting into the Cosmopolis actors company. Excited as he may have been though, he had joined a company that was, in truth, now in a state of flux, as Cotillard soon exited too (rumour has it in favour of playing a role in The Dark Knight Rises).
Keira Knightley, who plays Sabina Spielrein in A Dangerous Method and of whom Cronenberg has said “she's as good as anyone I've worked with” (he's also said “she's a heavy dude” but perhaps best not to dwell on that), was touted as a swift replacement. And at 25 she undoubtedly appeared a better age match for the boyish Pattinson than the 34-year-old Cotillard. Plus she is probably the one contemporary British screen star whose acting ability has been as regularly derided as that of Captain Jawline.
A match made in tabloid heaven, then? Could the gossip columnists begin sharpening their sharpest pencils in anticipation of the bitchy speculation they were going to get to write about Kristen Stewart getting her Incredible Hulk on in jealousy of Knightley and Pattinson's on-set bonding over their equally crappy notices?
Nope! Despite many outlets reporting Keira's casting as a done deal, her representatives last week confirmed that she was not involved, and the role of Elise remains unclaimed – at least as far as those outside the Cosmopolis camp are aware.
UPDATED: Screen Daily has spoken to producer Paulo Branco, whose company Alfama Films is backing Cosmopolis and confirmed that Oscar-winner Juliette Binoche has joined the production, and also that shooting will begin on the movie on 24 May.
Branco doesn't specify which role the Certified Copy star will play, and although Binoche would certainly have been an ideal fit for Elise in her Les Amants du Pont-Neuf days, the fact that she is now 46 signals either of two things. Firstly, that Cronenberg has decided to make the Elise character older than she is in DeLillo's book, thereby amending the connotations of her relationship, such as it is, with Eric. Or secondly, that Binoche is playing another character – maybe a version of Eric's 47-year-old lover Didi Fancher, or perhaps one of his business associates, such as Viji Kinski.
Amidst the Knightley hoo-ha, one genuinely encouraging bit of casting threatened to go almost unnoticed, with Paul Giamatti, fresh from soaking up the plaudits for his role in Sundance hit Win Win (including those issuing forth from our very own Kimberly Gadette), joining the production. The American Splendor star has revealed that his role will see him stalking Pattinson's Packer, meaning that he will almost certainly be playing the vengeful contradiction that is Benno Levin.
And, having teasingly invoked his name, it is with Benno whom we will leave things for today. But be sure to tune in tomorrow for the concluding part of our Cosmopolis movie preview.
We have three early David Cronenberg shorts which IndieMoviesOnline users can check out for free. For all those in the UK, US and Australia, we have future civil war scrapper Programme X: Secret Weapons, comic tale of bike obsessives, The Italian Machine, and the sting-in-the-tail shocks of The Lie Chair.
This TV play, written and directed David Cronenberg, explores one of his enduring themes: obsessive relationships with technology. A group of bike fanatics determine to get their hands on a Ducati 900 Desmo SuperSport owned by a rich guy, by any means necessary.Watch Movie
Peep Show was a Canadian, Twilight Zone-style anthology programme. This episode - in which a couple take shelter in a remote country house inhabited by two dotty old women - was directed by David Cronenberg and reveals an early preoccupation with horror and transformation.Watch Movie
It is six years into a future American civil war. A man has created a drug that enhances fighting skills. But will he give it to the theocratic government, or the rebels? A Cronenberg-directed television curio from the early seventies.Watch Movie