By Dan Metcalf, Jr.
Clipper Film Correspondent
The Counselor (20th Century Fox)
Rated R for graphic violence, some grisly images, strong sexual content and language.
Starring Michael Fassbender, Penélope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt, Rosie Pérez, Richard Cabral, Natalie Dormer, Édgar Ramírez, Bruno Ganz, Rubén Blades, Goran Višnjić.
Written by Cormac McCarthy.
Directed by Ridley Scott.
Drugs are bad. Greed is sometimes much worse, especially when you mix the two vices together. While I'm comfortably certain that I probably won't ever have a problem with drugs or greed, there's one thing for sure: based on many movies I've seen, I won't ever make any deals that involve drug cartels. One such deal is the setting for The Counselor, a film written by Carmac McCarthy (No Country For Old Men) and directed by Ridley Scott.
Michael Fassbender stars as “The Counselor,” (his character is never named in the film) a successful Texas lawyer who is in love with his fiance Laura (Penélope Cruz). As if having a successful legal practice and a beautiful, devoted woman at his side weren't enough, the counselor gets greedy and enters into a drug deal involving a club owner (with drug cartel connections) named Reiner (Javier Bardem) and a middleman/financier named Westray (Brad Pitt). As the deal is made, Reiner's conscience-challenged girlfriend Malkina (Cameron Diaz) keeps a watchful eye on all the proceedings, while engaging in all sorts of dirty deeds.
As with most drug deals involving cartels and other underworld, clandestine organizations, the arrangement between the counselor and Reiner hits a snag as the big shipment is hijacked, commencing a death spiral that does not go well for anyone – except the film's antagonist.
The Counselor is a departure for Cormac McCarthy, who has penned a few successful novels, including No Country For Old Men, All The Pretty Horses, The Road and others, many of which were made into films (No Country won the Academy Award for Best Picture a few years ago). The difference between those other films McCarthy's latest work is they were all novels before being adapted to the screen while The Counselor was penned by McCarthy directly for the big screen. The scribe's body of work is not exactly what you'd call an uplifting experience, as most of McCarthy's protagonists end up in tragic circumstances, while the bad guys usually get away. Without spoiling too much, The Counselor follows this trend, making for an ending without much room for redemption.
The Counselor has more than a few problems besides the dark, depressing and pointless tone. Red herrings pop up like weeds all over McCarthy's script, telegraphing most of the tragic plot points early in the film. Another gripe I have with The Counselor is the tendency for most characters to wax poetic into existential monologues, including one in which a cartel leader (Rueben Blades) opines about the life of a famous poet to help the counselor accept his fate. Such speeches have a proclivity to make the drug trade seem a little more romantic than it really is – juxtaposed against a lot of creative ways to kill people (another McCarthy staple).
One of the biggest gripes I have with The Counselor is the casting of Cameron Diaz as Malkina (who turns out to be a very heavy role by the end of the film). Diaz's performance seems a little too forced, and enters into dinner-theater territory. Angelina Jolie was once associated with the role, and might have been more suited than Diaz, who seems a little out of her element in The Counselor. It's too bad, since the rest of the talented cast can't make up for her blaring anomaly. Conversely, Fassbender turns in a fine performance, but also seems a little too sinister for the leading role.
Another disappointing aspect of The Counselor is inclusion of director Ridley Scott, whose talent is buried underneath such casting flaws and a preachy script.
All casting issues aside, The Counselor is a pointless movie about people making bad choices, thus becoming prey for malicious predators. It's also a little boring.
Remember, kids. Drugs are bad, and so are drug cartels.