CANNES, France (Reuters) - "Twilight" star Robert Pattinson is a ruthless billionaire on a journey to self-destruction in Canadian director David Cronenberg's "Cosmopolis", a searing attack on greed and capitalism launching at the Cannes film festival.

In the movie based on a Don DeLillo novel of the same name, capitalism is corrupting, characters cannot communicate, and people joke that rats could be the new currency. The film is competing for the festival's top prize to be awarded on Sunday.

The slick but stilted critique of the financial industry managed to capture the zeitgeist that erupted last year with the Occupy Wall Street movement, protests in Manhattan that occurred even as the film was being shot, Cronenberg said.

"We didn't think we were making ... a prophecy, when we started making the movie, but suddenly that was the case," Cronenberg told reporters. "For some reason our movie is capturing the moment. It became a documentary instead of a fiction film."

Heartthrob Pattinson plays high finance wonderkid Eric Packer, obsessed with the idea of crossing New York during heavy traffic and roadblocks to get a haircut.

It is never clear why the perfectly groomed lead actor wants a haircut, but along the circuitous route across town in his white stretch limo he appears in every scene of the movie -- usually sitting in a throne-like black leather seat.

"You need someone that people want to watch and he was brave enough to play a character who is not really sympathetic," Cronenberg said. "Some actors don't want to play that. And he was not afraid."

Pattinson told reporters he was initially intimidated by the prospect of working on the film, acknowledging that "I can't explain what the movie is about."

"I kind of spent two weeks in my hotel room worrying and confusing myself," he confessed.


Cronenberg's dialogue - which he adapted from the novel in six days - is close to DeLillo's text, with its enigmatic non-conversations whose subjects range from the devaluation of the yuan to asymmetrical prostates.

"I've had a long day," Pattinson tells the man (Benno Levin, played by Paul Giamatti) who is trying to assassinate him at the end of the film. "Time for some philosophical pause."

Cronenberg - who is known for dark films like "The Fly" and "Crash" - creates a sense of menace in "Cosmopolis" as threats to the president and anxiety over unsecured networks pervade the relative security and quiet of Packer's white limousine.

"The situation is not stable," warns Packer's bodyguard before they drive through the anarchy of Times Square, where enraged demonstrators carry inflated rats and spray paint the limo.

Even the characters' bodies begin to feel the effects of the corrupting world around them.

"My prostate is asymmetrical," Levin confesses.

"So is mine," replies Packer, who earlier in the film discussed currency valuations with a colleague in his limo while undergoing a prostrate exam.

"What does it mean?"

Reaction to the film from the Cannes audience was mixed, with bloggers and critics taking to Twitter to offer their initial reactions.

Peter Bradshaw of the Guardian called it "stilted, self-important and fantastically shallow", whereas a colleague on the same newspaper, Xan Brooks disagreed, describing Cosmopolis as a "film of cool, diamond brilliance."

For a look at the Cannes lineup click here:

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