Theatrical Review: The Counselor
You would think that teaming up director Ridley Scott with celebrated writer Cormac McCarthy would yield an absolutely entertaining as can be film… at least that’s what I thought…
After seeing the movie, one of my friends and I were driving back to my house and he, having the same reaction as I started to play a game of negative catch-phrase summaries for the movie, coming up with things like, “The Counselor should be disbarred!,” or “The Counselor is a mistrial!,” or “The Counselor should file a motion… or have a motion, any motion!” Yeah, sure they’re lame phrases, but it was about the only enjoyment we got out of the whole film.
Basically, what you have here is Scott and McCarthy creating a sort of pulp fiction fable of sorts. A young lawyer (only known here as The Counselor- no name is ever given) is madly in love and is about to engage in a one-time drug cartel deal in order to make a ton of money in which to keep him and his lover in a lavish lifestyle. Before the deal goes down, The Counselor is warned by two other associates (both also tied to the deal) that if he takes this step, his life will be irrevocably changed in ways that he can’t even prepare for. Still, the Counselor goes in on the deal and as expected it all goes horribly wrong…
By the above premise, it sounds like this should be fairly straightforward in how it’s events all lay out, but it’s anything but. This story is told in scenes that are filled with long-winded philosophical discussions that seem like they’re trying to embrace the idea of being disengaging. Now there’s nothing wrong with that and as one of my friends pointed out (and I certainly agree), it’s the sort of thing that Quentin Tarantino does all the time in his films, but Tarantino also tends to throw in other qualities that makes his scene more than just the talk (I tend to think that it’s more how Tarantino is a genuine movie nerd, and that joy about movies is what makes his scenes and characters work so well). The titular character is drawn out in the most broad of ways, he’s supposed to be interesting because of his amazing love for this woman and has these nebulous money problems that he’s trying to overcome, but other than that, there’s nothing that makes him relatable or interesting in the slightest. The same can be said of his associates, one of which (played by Javier Bardem, the character Reiner) delights in his excesses and the other (played by Brad Pitt, Westray) prides himself on his ability to be ready to walk away from anything. They’re both ciphers of sorts (as is every character in the film) and for that, they certainly serve the fable aspect of this story, but their dialogue is so dry and endlessly pontificating that it just makes scenes more of an endurance challenge than anything else.
I’ve mentioned both Javier Bardem and Brad Pitt above, and yes, The Counselor certainly does have a high-powered cast. One of my favorite actors of the present day, Michael Fassbender, plays the titular character, Cameron Diaz plays Malkina, Reiner’s scheming girlfriend and Penélope Cruz plays Laura, the Counselor’s love. I think the cast are all fine here, it’s just that the dialogue is completely off-putting. To me, Pitt fares the best in his few scenes as he seems to be doing his best to not only speak these words naturally, but also bring in some sort of engagement to the overall piece. Cameron Diaz certainly has a sharp look about her here, but even an over-the-top scene with her dry-humping a car is just something that we endure more than we’re engaged in. Penélope Cruz is basically “the girl” of the film and nothing more. Fassbender certainly looks good in his part, and does a respectable job of holding his own with Bardem and Pitt (though again, it’s disengaging), but after that, there’s little reason to give a damn at all. Late in the movie, Breaking Bad’s Dean Norris shows up for one little scene (uncredited) that serves us another little bit of philosophical pontificating, but it’s glaring due to Norris’ recognizability from Breaking Bad and the fact that other than reacting to what was being said he had nothing else to do. To me, it served as more of a reminder of just how much more superior Breaking Bad was at doing a lot of the same things that The Counselor is trying to do.
I’ve used the word “endurance” a lot during this review, and I’m sorry to say, getting through this film was a test of that more than anything else. Director Ridley Scott certainly does a few interesting visual things here, but other than that, he just seems slavish to McCarthy’s pretentious script. I get the movie’s symbolism and dark messages about human nature but in the end it’s just completely soulless and ultimately… boring. With a director of Ridley Scott’s calibre and a cast that should be able to deliver huge life to anything, this just ends up making The Counselor one of the most bloated and disappointing movies that I’ve seen this year.