On the surface, Cosmopolis is a film about an 28-year-old insanely rich asset manager driving around New York in his armoured and "corked" luxury limo while entering into more or less philosophical conversations with various advisors, colleagues and prostitutes about his business and their ultimate capitalistic lifestyle. His goal with the trip is to get a haircut at his favourite barber, but along the way he is detained by a presidential visit to the city, various threats to his life, and a handful of meals shared with his pedantic newly wed wife, who is just about the only female in his life he's having a platonic relationship with.
On a more metaphorical level – which is actually the level on which the film mostly operates and functions to some degree – Cosmopolis is a highly satirical social criticism. It is essentially an absurd comedy, albeit one of the most obscured comedies you'll ever see. There are some hilarious moments, but the film mostly keeps both its laughs and its message so inferential and contained that arguably only the most intent viewers will get to it. It's not surprising, really, that when David Cronenberg were to adapt a Don De Lillo novel – both men known for not being too concerned about whether they alienate their audiences – the result would be detached, academic and overly stylized. And that's exactly how Cosmopolis has turned out, possibly intentionally, but a film like this needs to function on both levels, and far more consistently than this, to be able to get its message across – not to speak of to be entertaining.
In themes and atmosphere, Cosmopolis is not unlike American Psycho, written by the De Lillo influenced author Bret Easton Ellis, and adapted and directed by Mary Harron. The big difference is that American Psycho is a vibrant, highly palpable tale, something which in turn makes the metaphorical secondary level so much more effective and thought-provoking. Cosmopolis never has any verve in its main storyline, despite a telling performance by lead actor Robert Pattinson, and that devaluates the rest of what Cronenberg/De Lillo has to offer: the satirical characters, the (overly) intellectual banter, and the final confrontation, which could and should have felt more pivotal than it does.