Disappointing, but it doesn’t mean there isn’t at least something to admire – the enigmatic performances. The Counselor is the dour and downbeat, unresolved and amorphous, new drug world film by director Ridley Scott and novelist Cormac McCarthy, penning his first feature film screenplay. Michael Fassbender is a lawyer who gets involved in his first drug deal, so he can score once and leave the business. He is intelligent for what he does as a living, but not intelligent enough to hold his own in a criminal culture that encompasses dangerous thieves and backstabbers of Texas and Mexico. Even counselors with first-rate education don’t have the survival skills for this.
Javier Bardem and Cameron Diaz are a crazy, wealthy criminal couple with a set of pet cheetahs, Brad Pitt is a veteran middle man who has seen the extreme limits of the business, and Penelope Cruz is defined as ideal wife material within two scenes (our counselor wants to marry her, provide her with a perfect life). Rosie Perez has a doozy of a scene as a jailbird who needs a favor. The Counselor bails her son out, but although we understand this is supposed to be the catalyst to the plot, it’s only in the vaguest way. It’s never clear, really, why the Counselor’s gesture triggers his downfall.
Scott’s film is great to look at with all those sunbaked Southwestern scenes and hostile desert roads. But it’s mostly a film made up of clumpy talky episodes, the kind we got in the far more interestingly verbose “Killing Them Softly” (also with Pitt, it was a film that persuasively zeroed in how criminals actually talk) or from any David Mamet script where tough guys speak savagely but poetically. The character of the Counselor, who has no other name to go by, doesn’t speak as much as listen – but some of the encounters between him and Bardem or Pitt have a dog eat dog bite.
You would think a movie called “The Counselor” would have a satisfying final scene that’s actually about him. The adaptation of McCarthy’s “No Country for Old Men,” the final scene had something profound it wants to say about mankind, about the power schemes within the world. “The Counselor” has a final poetically written exchange, no doubt, but tells us nothing we haven’t heard before nor furthers our appreciation of the story.
If there was any movie I was reminded of most it was “Syriana” from eight years ago, which dealt not with drugs but with the corrupt world oil trade. Just as I thought then, “The Counselor” similarly doesn’t have coherence, it simply features events that don’t connect. I do like how the characters speak in codes or metaphors because the world they inhabit is too dangerous to speak literally out in the open. You die if you can’t keep up. That’s interesting.
I realize that I’ve told you nothing about the action or suspense of the film. Well, there’s a saucy opening cunnilingus sex scene, gyrating masturbation on a car windshield, some cheetah chasing after prey, a rigged tripwire used against a motorcyclist, a two car shoot-out, another car chase leading to an execution, a kidnapping, and a bolito wind-up wire device that’s lethal (a terrifying and original scene). In between all that are those clumpy dialogue scenes, some of them though are good.
111 Minutes. Rated R.
SUSPENSE / TALKY BAD GUYS / SATURDAY NIGHT BRAINTEASER
Film Cousins: “Syriana” (2005); “No Country for Old Men” (2007); “Savages” (2012); “Killing Them Softly” (2012).