“The slaughter to come is probably beyond our imagining.”
Michael Fassbender plays the titular character merely named: The Counselor. He is a financially troubled lawyer who has fallen head over heels for the unobtrusive Laura (Penelope Cruz) and everything is set up for ‘happily ever after’ had he not wandered into the drug business looking to make a lucrative investment on a shipment of drugs making their way across Mexico to Chicago. This immediately sets things in motion to go awry. The irony of Fassbender’s ‘counselor’ is that he is the one often seeking advice from Westray (Brad Pitt), a charmless cowboy or Reiner (Javier Bardem) the flamboyant ladies’ man as he is immediately out of his depth and persistently told, through heavy-handed allegories thing will end badly.
Malinka (Cameron Diaz) is the, leopard tattooed, woman pulling the wool over the men’s eyes as she calmly dupes them for all they’re worth. She is a sexual force of nature and her lasciviousness cannot be tamed (not even by a catholic priest). In the already infamous ‘windshield scene’ she makes a power play that shows she isn’t afraid of any man nor is she afraid of rubbing up against cold glass. She is given the most convoluted of lines and even though she does well to deliver them her character remains too cartoonish for you to buy them. Cameron Diaz’s wardrobe is fantastic, her villainy is not.
The plot, whilst supposed to be deliberately barebones, is grandiose and as a result becomes thin rather than hefty. It is replaced with character moments where every conversation is pounded out at full force and everything each character is saying is meant to be profound. It’s these erudite conversations that make it clunky. Cormac McCarthy’s screenplay is lacking the deftness that can be found in No Country for Old men or his other novels and as a result the characters meander about, sometimes in purposeful listlessness, but more often than not in sheer bewilderment that this isn’t as good as it could be. It starts out as an over the top portrayal of American excess but as it progresses it becomes much less colourful and the sobering reality sets in. It’s Pain and Gain with an overwrought message.
As the lead Fassbender is as watchable as ever bringing gravity to the role as and when it is needed. When he cried I could feel the emotion despite having no real passion towards the characters or their exploits by that point in the film. This is a key problem of the movie, even though it’s supposed to be cold hearted you are meant to have some empathy towards what’s happening on screen but the way in which the characters aren’t made human means you are just waiting for everything to be horribly tied up with no care.
I still have affection towards The Counselor as it’s not your atypical thriller. The way the story is revealed to you but not necessarily shown is cleverly done and although Ridley Scott doesn’t seem to give the film his own touch (I’d like to see what Soderbergh would’ve made of it) he does make it look impeccable and there are some choices made that are a pleasing break from the dialogue and by using this silences in key places it actually adds to the atmosphere Cormac McCarthy is trying desperately to create. However if it weren’t for some darkly comedic exchanges that give the film a certain lightness it would drown under its own symbolism as it ends as a caricature of its own seriousness much like Only God Forgives from earlier this year.
I have a soft spot for Ridley Scott even when he misfires. Nihilism has never looked so glamorous.