Judging from the movies that have been based on Cormac McCarthy’s novels (“No Country for Old Men,” “The Road,” “All the Pretty Horses”), he seems to be a character-driven writer but also a location-driven one as well. This holds true for the most recent movie based on one of his books: “The Counselor.”
Scenes from this movie are reminiscent of luxury car commercials complete with beautiful women, lavish wardrobes, and wild animals. They are beautifully shot, but perhaps only to distract from the choppy telling of the story. Michael Fassbender is “the counselor” as we are reminded of time and again (lost count of how many times that word was used). He is slick, handsome, but for an attorney, not all that smart. The only counsel he gives is to a women in jail (Rosie Perez) that he was court-appointed to. There is an immediate instability to him that makes it obvious that he is likely to screw something up. He is clever, but insecure. Smart, but lacking common sense.
He gets caught up in a drug trafficking deal right as he proposes to girlfriend Laura (Penelope Cruz). He works with crazy-haired Reiner (Javier Bardem) and questions Reiner’s girl toy Malkina (Cameron Diaz) as a plan that didn’t seem that solid to begin with quickly begins to unravel. The contrast between Malkina and Laura can be compared to that of Malkina's pet cheetahs hunting down defenseless rabbits. The opposites they portray mirrors the characters they played when starring together in “Vanilla Sky.”
Brad Pitt steps in on the scene as the middle man of the deal and serves as one of the brighter highlights to the film. His charisma is obvious on-screen although Fassbender holds his own in terms of magnetic appeal. The delivery of dialogue is well done. However, without having read the novel, there are many lines that seem to be verbatim. The audience can literally hear the story unfold, like a book on tape, so that credit goes to the writer.
The problem with the film is that there is a lot of missing necessary details and too much information on other parts of the story. The sex scenes in this movie are on a gratuitous level all their own. The Ferrari scene is not so much provocative as it is troublesome. The violence is over-the-top but appropriate to the story and a lot more fascinating than any of the sex.
The movie travels from location to location back and forth between people who seem to be strangers more than trusted friends. There are stories told and played out within the film that are probably far more entertaining with more vivid description in the book. The movie hits you over the head with foreshadowing; there is no suspense. There is a shaky beginning and an abrupt end and bits of a middle. But it’s not to say that is altogether a bad movie.
It has all the elements of a great movie in fact: fantastic cast, lauded director, noted novelist. The setting was beautiful, the clothes stunning and even the music played a big role. However, it didn't shift gears. It just zigzagged along stopping to let you see short bits of scenery as it blurred by.
Final words: The movie is unbalanced because the story gets lost in all the sex and violence, but the star power sucks you in.