Riddled with big-name actors, ‘The Counselor’ is a hollow, seamy, cautionary tale of vice and punishment from which redemption (for both its characters and audience) never comes.
Michael Fassbender is the eponymous ‘Counselor’ (never being given a name of his own in the film). The Texas-born Counselor is up to some no-good, unethical business with an over-the-top, crazy-coiffed nightclub owner, Reiner (Javier Bardem). Apparently, the Counselor has his back ‘up against the wall’ financially, and finds himself in cahoots with the impresario Reiner by becoming entangled with a major cocaine shipment and the drug cartel. Meanwhile, Reiner’s cheetah-loving inamorata, Malkina (Cameron Diaz), slinks around his opulent residence giving off evil mojo to all (being of such ill will that she later scares off a priest). The Counselor seemingly seeks to protect himself and his future, and, in pursuit of this, becomes engaged to a religious woman, Laura (Penélope Cruz). But, when a crisis arises, all that the Counselor sought is suddenly at risk.
‘The Counselor’ is famed American novelist Cormac McCarthy’s (author of ‘The Road,’ ‘No Country for Old Men’) first script written directly for the screen; all of his other lauded works were adapted by other screenwriters. Unfortunately, McCarthy’s talent appears to work much better on the printed page rather than directly coming out of characters' mouths. Dialogue throughout the movie is awkward and full of monolithic spoutings on existentialism. (Apparently, even those in the drug trade have long, pensive thoughts about the futility of decisions once they are made.) Interestingly, some lines might have been noteworthy in another film, such as Malkina’s pithy gem (in reference to her cold-hearted directness), ‘Truth has no temperature.’ But here, amongst all the other expoundings, a line that might have been smirk-worthy elsewhere seems forced and overdone.
Fassbender’s swagger and put-on Texas charm are appealing in the film, to the extent that they can be, although he is trapped in a plot that very clearly foreshadows everything that will happen in its doomed third act. And, Bardem, although unable to tap into his usual mesmerizing level of unbridled kookiness, is also engaging while on screen. But, unfortunately, McCarthy has written his female roles cartoonish and without depth. As such, neither Cruz, the ‘innocent,’ nor Cameron, the cat-like ‘temptress/evil incarnate,’ can ascend beyond the limitations of his black-and-white characterizations.
Furthermore, not only is the plot quick to judge and punish many of its characters, it is, unforgivably murky, filled with purposeless peripheral appearances by known B-list actors (John Leguizamo, Rubén Blades) and indelibly bad scenes that are more disturbing than sensical. Even A-lister Brad Pitt, who appears in a few scenes as shady drug middleman Westray, serves little function other than to jauntily wear a 70s-esque Western suit and, redundantly, demonstrate the punishment that comes with vice.
‘The Counselor’ attempts to be full of heady existentialism, but instead, just seems shallow, unconvincing, and wasteful of such talent. ‘The Counselor’ is rated 2 - out of 5 stars (‘Not Recommended’).
‘The Counselor’ is rated R for ‘graphic violence, some grisly images, strong sexual content and language.’
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