The Good: Decent writing, Fair direction
The Bad: Characters are virtually impossible to empathize with, No stellar performances
The Basics: In The Counselor, Ridley Scott finds it impossible to make Cormac McCarthy’s characters interesting – though he has performers who present their lines well and he directs the stark film well.
What do you do, if you’re a big Hollywood director, who has spent two years working on one of the biggest, most ambitious, science fiction films of the year? In the case of Ridley Scott, apparently, you move onto something smaller, more manageable, and much more real. Following his immersion in the creation of Prometheus (reviewed here!), Scott opted to direct the latest cinematic endeavor of Cormac McCarthy’s The Counselor. While the adaptation of McCarthy’s No Country For Old Men (reviewed here!) went on to win the Best Picture Oscar, there is virtually no hope that The Counselor will follow in that tradition.
The fault does not go to Scott, who does everything he can to use the film medium well. The Counselor looks good, though there is a prevalence of sun-washed scenes that becomes tiresome to the eyes. And many of the lines delivered in The Counselor are actually clever. But the fundamental problem with the film’s writing is that those lines are either incongruent to the realism of the film (real people do not speak in eloquent generalizations) or the performers deliver them as if they are just lines (without developing a forceful sense of the character’s reality to back them up). This is especially problematic for Cameron Diaz’s Malkina (who is essentially a manipulative archetype).
In Mexico, smugglers cleverly use a septic tank service to hide their cocaine, which they then smuggle over the U.S. border into Texas. In Amsterdam, The Counselor buys a ring for his girlfriend, Laura, despite being worried that the big diamond will attract the wrong kind of attention to her. After he proposes (Laura agrees to marry him), The Counselor and Laura attend a party thrown by Reiner, who has an interest in power . . . and how The Counselor is not rising to his full potential given his influence. After Westray pitches the Counselor on an exceptional drug deal (despite warning him that it might not be worth getting involved in), The Counselor is seen actually doing his job, in the form of getting his client’s son, The Green Hornet, bailed out of prison.
But, when the Green Hornet is killed and the drug stash is stolen, The Counselor is implicated. As Riener, the Wireman, and a notorious drug cartel all battle for control of the stolen drugs, the Counselor is drawn in. In an effort to rescue Laura, who has been kidnapped by the cartel, The Counselor meets with the Jefe, though all his efforts might be for naught as the Jefe is not the true power behind the debacle.
The Counselor is one of those unfortunate thrillers where the establishing information in the movie reveals enough to make the seasoned filmgoer have a pretty good idea who the real villain is. This is an unfortunate occurrence for The Counselor in that the movie spends so much time on the red herrings, shootouts and chases that the human interactions that motivate all of them are sorely neglected. Instead of being smart and challenging, the viewer sits it out, waiting for the big reveal.
The big reveal comes at the expense of making the title character truly resonate. When The Counselor falls out of the film, there are so few characters left that the remainder of the film is spent with the villain almost out of default.
None of the characters are particularly empathetic. In fact, arguably the most realistic and human character is Laura, but she is so thinly rendered in The Counselor that the viewer cares only in the abstract (and for the effect it has on the Counselor) when she is kidnapped. The Counselor’s moral ambiguity makes it difficult to root for him . . . his bad choices get him embroiled in the entire drug smuggling debacle, so the damage he suffers and the collateral damage to those around him is more predictable than shocking.
On the acting front, The Counselor features a talented cast, used in the most mediocre fashion. Cameron Diaz is stiff and abstractly philosophical with her lines for the bulk of her scenes in the film. Michael Fassbender shows none of his innate charisma and does not seem like a powerful or particularly smart individual, which is imperative for the viewer to believe in order for The Counselor to work. Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt and Penelope Cruz do not give the viewer anything they have not seen in previous films.
In all, The Counselor is a fairly transparent thriller that is heavy on the themes, low on the thrills. In the end, that makes it entirely forgettable.
For other works with Micheal Fassbender, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
12 Years A Slave
X-Men: First Class
For other movie reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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