There was so much promise leading up to the final unveiling of Ridley Scott‘s long-awaited crime thriller, The Counselor written by the great Cormac McCarthy. Assembling a top-notch cast that included Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Cameron Diaz, and Academy Award Winners Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz, the stars seemed to be aligning for one of the great thrillers of the year. Check your expectations at the door because Scott’s film is an episodically stale adventure, fleshed out with thin characters that inhabit no motivations that feel neither authentic nor realistic.
Surprisingly, Scott is not so much of the film’s deep problems. He puts his gritty staple on some key and entertaining scenes including an opening that includes the sexy Cruz being pleasured by manly Fassbender however, those are not enough to make up for the film’s obvious missteps that include mundane dialogue and unclear character beats.
The film tells the story of a lawyer, who only goes by “Counselor” (played by Michael Fassbender) and how he gets tangled into the world of murder, drugs, and betrayal. Too bad none of his beginning actions are set up to give us any insight into how or why he gets involved with these people. One of his key motivations to get involved with this world is one of his clients Reiner (played by Javier Bardem), who sports a Brian Glazer haircut and Snooki tan. Reiner’s girlfriend Malkina (played exquisitely by Cameron Diaz), who is the only offering of interest and demands the audience’s attention, supports our tale of mystery and intrigue with fragmented one-liners and thrusting the windshield of the car in the film’s most disturbing scene.
The only thing that McCarthy’s script manages to explore somewhat successfully is the love for his fiancée Laura (played by Penelope Cruz), but it’s done so halfheartedly that by the film’s initial “climax,” we have no more gas to get us invested into the story.
There are two things that are worth seeing the film for. The aforementioned Cameron Diaz is the most confident we’ve seen her in years, probably since her performance in Vanilla Sky. Her abilities as an actress have always presented great talent and depth, but not always showcased in the right roles. Malkina works for her brilliantly, and perhaps in a mini-series or even a Showtime or HBO television show, Diaz would be the standout of the story and win a butt load of awards. She steals focus in every scene she’s in and keeps the viewer watching, at least for the time she’s on-screen.
Daniel Pemberton‘s score is one of the year’s best. When pinned together with the cinematography of Darius Wolski, Scott’s film becomes an interesting mistake. Pietro Scalia‘s editing seems ill-advised. I’m sure there are 30 minutes of key coverage on the editing room floor that would have bridged more complete thoughts of our characters and give us more of an understanding of the film’s central premise. Even after the screening, I’m not sure I fully understood what the story was about or what the ending revealed. I’m still unclear on some of the plot points.
McCarthy’s script is a huge misfire. Adapt this into a full-fledged novel, where an author can detail a character’s history, beats, and motivations, and then you likely have a successful medium. The script encompasses long-winded monologues that seem to never end, from characters that use a vocabulary that they probably would never use. It’s very try hard to have a random drug lord offer an inspirational life message that gets our main character at his core. There were several instances that had me rolling my eyes.
As the Counselor, Fassbender plays it pretty safe. He’s almost plucked out of Steve McQueen’s Shame, playing the same distanced man but with fear. Fear for what? That never really gets cleared up, wish I could tell you. Cruz continues to be beautiful eye-candy for my life. A sexy entity with heart and grace that is discarded in such a matter of fact sort of way, it’s almost offensive. Bardem is merely a caricature, a cartoon joke for the viewership that occasionally gets wide-eyed and gives the audience a chuckle. Pitt is wasted altogether. Laid back and monotonous and having no relevance besides one key moment in the third act.
The Counselor is an interesting failure to say the least. Though the lines are cheesy to the tenth degree, the film does service itself as a fun ride (at times). It’s so crazy in the way Scott decides to tell the story, that you do remain at least curious to see what this dizzying roller coaster is about. There are humorous scenes, especially from Bardem and Diaz, that may have you laughing somewhat. None of these are the saving grace when the script and its story begins to collapse on itself about 20 minutes into the film. General audiences may find some pleasure in it à la Wild Things by John McNaughton or 8MM by Joel Schumacher.
I’d like to introduce my mouth to my foot. I know I went on record nearly half a year ago thinking that The Counselor could be the Oscar-winner that brings Ridley Scott his long-awaited win and brings the Academy to Coolville. None of that will happen. An Oscar-contender this is not. A Razzie contender, it could be. No wonder why 20th Century Fox held it so tight. Secret’s out now. In some ways, the film is a bit intoxicating, the way you feel when you get drunk for the first time. The next day you end up regretting it, but that doesn’t stop you from wanting to try it again sometime. It’ll be fun to watch it on Netflix in a couple of months and really analyze what works and what doesn’t. The latter list will be quite lengthy I’m sure.
The Counselor opens Friday, October 25 in theaters.
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