Talent in Front of the Camera and Behind It Can’t Save “The Counselor”
With a screenplay from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Cormac McCarthy, direction by three-time Oscar nominee Ridley Scott and an all-star cast featuring Michael Fassbender, Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt, Penelope Cruz and Cameron Diaz, The Counselor is the product of a veritable Dream Team of Hollywood talent. What could possibly go wrong? Maybe they should ask their hometown baseball team, the Los Angeles Dodgers who are currently watching the World Series from their sofas just like me.
The story is simple. A criminal defense attorney in financial trouble (Fassbender) decides to supplement his income by putting together a $ 20 million drug deal and uses some of his underworld contacts to hatch his get-rich-quick scheme. Needless to say, things go wrong, and betrayal and mayhem ensue. Along the way we meet a drug dealer with two pet cheetahs, (Bardem), his girlfriend (Diaz) and the attorney’s sweet fiancée (Cruz) who has no idea that her spouse-to-be is morally and financially bankrupt. Throw in a middleman dressed like a wannabe cowboy (Pitt), bring to a boil and you have a recipe for a cinematic disaster.
The biggest weakness of the film should theoretically be its strong suit, the script by Cormac McCarthy. Instead, the audience quickly learns that being a renowned novelist does not automatically make for a gifted screenwriter. The Counselor is the type of movie where every character sounds and acts the same. There is almost no differentiation between their personalities, speech patterns, inner concerns or topics of conversation. You can easily envision any of the dialogue coming out of any of their mouths. It’s an interchangeable script filled with silly soliloquies about life, death, violence, love, and commitment. You’ve heard deeper discussions at a frat house after a keg party. I wasn’t sure Cameron Diaz was going to make it through her final speech of the film without simply giving up and going home. To call her performance “wooden” is an insult to marionettes everywhere.
What’s even more odd is that McCarthy is known for writing stark, no-frills fiction where meanings are implied and must be intuited by the reader. Here, he cuts loose. We’re treated to speeches about torture devices, Mexican poets and “cautionary diamonds” that prove to be nothing but a rambling form of foreshadowing. And after nearly every such speech, the speaker says “In other words” or a similar expression and explains to you the real world implications of what they just took five minutes telling you. Yeesh. The script should have been confiscated by the Department of Redundancy Department.
The screen is filled with visual distractions, but unfortunately they won’t entertain you for two hours. Javier Bardem’s hair alone puts him in the select group of actors – Al Pacino, Sean Penn and Sam Jackson –who have occasionally been out-performed by their ‘dos. When I wasn’t asking myself if Bardem’s hair was a wig, I was contemplating how much a pet cheetah might cost. And then I started pondering whether a white Bentley convertible is really the right car choice if you’re running from a drug cartel and trying to maintain a low profile. There is one moment where Penelope Cruz repeatedly refers to “Boise, Idaho”. Listening to her sexy pronunciation of the town made me think that their Chamber of Commerce should contact her about a possible ad campaign.
When things go awry with the drug deal at the core of The Counselor, Bardem explains the thought processes of the criminal underworld to his less experienced friend who has caused so much turmoil. “They know you are stupid,” he says. “They just don’t know how stupid you are.” Sounds like a perfect description of this film.
3 out of 10
(Because Penelope said “Boise” three times)
The Movie Isle
Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for themovieisle.com. From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for filmdispenser.com. Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.