The Counselor (2013)

Sin is a choice.

Interesting tagline for such a disastrous film. With a stellar cast such as Michael Fassbender, Javier Bardem and Brad Pitt attached to the picture, high profile director Ridley Scott, Blade Runner (1982), behind the camera and renowned American writer Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men (2007), at its helm, The Counselor was poised for critical and box office success, while its initial trailers suggested that viewers were in for a compelling cinematic treat. It’s particularly unfortunate that the finished product lacks any of the spark or innovation that has gained these Hollywood heavyweights such respect in the film industry. What went wrong? You might be asking yourself, well, let’s take a look.

For starters, the picture’s story, written by fist time screenwriter McCarthy, is very vague and pretentious; it focuses on a successful unnamed lawyer who colleagues call ‘Counselor’ (Michael Fassbender). A respected man amongst his peers, the Counselor is about to marry his fiancée Laura (Penélope Cruz). Ignoring his business associate Westray’s (Brad Pitt) warning, the Counselor becomes entangled in a complex drug deal in order to perhaps gain some extra money; strangely the particular ins and outs of this deal are never ‘entirely’ explained, alienating viewers from the get-go. But when something goes terribly wrong with the shipment, the Counselor discovers the real dangers involved in the drug dealing business as his partners are systematically eliminated and he is forced to protect himself and his fiancée against merciless Mexican cartels.

Drinking mojitos and talking dirty!
Drinking mojitos and talking dirty!

The script is the first major issue as there are several inconsistencies within the picture’s chief players and a handful of ridiculous scenes to boot. We also waste large chunks of time developing a number of secondary characters that appear to talk in monologues and don’t particularly serve any relevance to the plot. Come to think of it, there’s hardly any naturally delivered dialogue throughout the entire film, it’s as if McCarthy is writing literature opposed to a screenplay. Meanwhile McCarthy’s poor understanding of women continues to plague his work with the females in The Counselor being portrayed as either completely outrageous or disposable. The Counselor clearly tries to explore themes of greed, death and the primal instincts of humans and their consequences but these ideas come off short as the film’s characters are as far from human as one could possibly get.

We have the Counselor, Michael Fassbender, Inglourious Basterds (2009), playing the typical ‘good’ guy who has obviously made a ‘bad’ choice, however as we are never entirely made aware of his motives it’s difficult to ever fully connect with him; Fassbender’s flat detached performance doesn’t help the film either. Next up we have Penélope Cruz, Volver (2006), who plays the paper-thin one-dimensional, Laura. Cruz has two functions in the film, to talk dirty in the picture’s opening acts and then to be killed off later on in the narrative in order to evoke an emotional response from viewers, which really doesn’t pay off due to her narrow character development. Brad Pitt, Fight Club (1999), only has about five minutes of screen time as the urban cowboy Westray, although he appears all over the film’s advertising. Oddly enough it’s Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men (2007), who gives the best performance as Reiner, a charismatic entrepreneur by day and an underground drug kingpin by night, although his absurd wardrobe and silly hair dehumanize the character a tad. Cameron Diaz, There’s Something About Mary (1998), is terribly miscast as Reiner’s conniving wife Malkina, a name, which apparently comes from the word Grimalkin that supposedly means ‘evil looking female cat.’ While certain characters claim that Malkina is a ruthless sociopath, the only example of her malice is an appalling scene where she masturbates on a Ferrari windshield in front of her husband, Reiner. Diaz’s ridicules appearance, resembling a cheetah, only adds insult to the already inapt performance. On a side note, whoever was in charge of the wardrobe department in this film should really consider a career change.

Cheers to the outrageous costume department!
Cheers to the outrageous costume department!

Ridley Scott’s usual slick direction doesn’t improve the picture either, as it’s often unclear as to what type of film Scott is trying to direct here, is it a thriller, a character study or an unintentional comedy? Ultimately The Counselor comes off feeling somewhat disjointed. The only positive thing that can be said about The Counselor is that the film’s effects team do a fantastic job as the picture features a couple of really neat kills which boost the overall tone and remind us of the great No Country for Old Men (2007). But when taking into account all the talent attached to the project, it’s tremendously disappointing that the only encouraging aspect of The Counselor are its gore effects.

In sum, The Counselor is a massive missed opportunity and, as a whole, totally unsatisfying. I sincerely hope that Ridley Scott ups his game after a string of major disappointments while Cormac McCarthy should either stick to writing novels or take a screenwriting course; heed my advice and, if possible, just avoid this altogether.

2 / 5 – Average

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

The Counselor is released through 20th Century Fox Australia