David Cronenberg's Don DeLillo adaptation casts Robert Pattinson as a soul-sapped billionaire

If the anecdotal evidence is to be trusted, Cosmopolis might be the most controversial movie David Cronenberg has ever made.

Never mind the kerfuffle over Crash, or the outraged heads that exploded when Scanners was released.

No – just stick R-Pattz in a limo, while variously discussing financial theory and having his prostate examined, and you are guaranteed walk-outs.

Trust Cronenberg, a director who found infamy through imagery, to turn off the Twi-hards with verbiage.

Turns out, the talkiness of A Dangerous Method was merely foreplay for Cosmopolis,a deliciously dry affair that revels in the clipped ironies of Don DeLillo’s source novel about businessman Eric Packer’s (Robert Pattinson) search for a haircut.

Director and  author alike have long cherished the cold and cerebral, so are in perfect union on a film that intentionally juxtaposes Eric’s banal, mannered listlessness with sudden eruptions of lurching, violent surrealism.

You can see why the Twilight crowd was incensed. Emo-teen romance, it isn’t.

As conventional drama, it fails… but as a postmodern picaresque about an amoral yuppie who wonders what it’s like to feel, Cosmopolis bursts with subversive pleasures.

This being Cronenberg, sex and pain are the tools to achieving Eric’s epiphany; leave early, and you miss at least one indelible shock.

Elsewhere, the acidic satire on capitalism is the director at his drollest.

Science has always been Cronenberg’s domain, so it’s no surprise he makes Eric’s journey a metaphor for monetary experimentation.

The stretch limo (all screens, neon lines and sterile leather) is Eric’s laboratory; his test tube is New York, where economic meltdown erupts into riots.

DeLillo published the novel well before the credit crunch, and Cronenberg sees beyond topicality by studying the system itself.

And R-Pattz? It’d be easy to suggest he’s along for the ride, working with the cult director for career advancement, but Pattinson is no passenger.

Imperious but impetuous, chilly even when he’s chillin’, Pattinson ably holds his own in a film that’s essentially a relay race of cameos from great actors who are as visibly stoked as he is to work with Cronenberg.

True, some slip by unnoticed (hello Jay Baruchel, goodbye Jay Baruchel), and one usually reliable star is over-indulged in the Grand Guignol final act, but the likes of Samantha Morton and Mathieu Amalric flourish.

Better still, Cronenberg teases winningly laconic performances from Kevin Durand and A Dangerous Method’s Sarah Gadon that rival R-Pattz’s revelatory turn for making controversy out of conversation.

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