– Summary –
Director : Ridley Scott
Year Of Release : 2013
Principal Cast : Michael Fassbender, Cameron Diaz, Peneolope Cruz, Brad Pitt, Javier Bardem, Bruno Ganz, Rosie Perez, Natalie Dormer, Edgar Ramirez, Ruben Blades, Goran Visnjic, John Leguizamo.
Approx Running Time : 117 Minutes
Synopsis: After a drug deal goes wrong, a man hoping to start a new life with his lady-love find himself on the run from the Mexcan drug cartels.
What we think : Ridley Scott’s career continues to nosedive off the back of Prometheus, with The Counselor, a crime thriller that lacks both thrills, or a point. Michael Fassbender is again superb, and the rest of the cast chew their scenery and lines with requisite aplomb, but the dire script and ambivalent characters create a malaise from which this film cannot escape. It’s unpleasant garbage, is what it is.
Here in Australia, we spell it with two “L’s”.
Ridley Scott’s career post-Gladiator hasn’t really held up the bargain he made with audiences during his Alien and Blade Runner days. Aside from Kingdom Of Heaven’s “director’s cut” edition on DVD, and probably American Gangster, his films since that millennial Oscar winner have been met with a fair degree of critical – if not box office – ambivalence. The Counselor seemed to come from nowhere; here in Australia, it wasn’t hyped, wasn’t promoted nearly as vigorously as most of The Ridster’s previous films, perhaps indicative of the quality of the film itself in the minds of distributing studio 20th Century Fox. With Ridley in dire need of a hit, particularly after the miasma that was Prometheus (whether you like it or not, the film was a turkey almost across the board), would The Counselor deliver? It boasted a great cast, led by Prometheus alum Michael Fassbender (who apparently can do no wrong) and featuring Brad Pitt and Cameron Diaz, The Counselor looked to be a film in a similar mold to Matchstick Men or American Gangster – would it deliver a guilty verdict, or would The Counselor be yet another mistrial before Judge Ridley?
A man known only as “The Counselor” (Michaeal Fassbender) proposes to his girlfriend Laura (Penelope Cruz), giving her an enorous engagement ring featuring a diamond he purchased from a man whilst in Amsterdam (Bruno Ganz). The Counselor is friends with Renier (Javier Bardem), a nightclub owner and drug kingpin, who hooks the Counselor up with a shipment of drugs coming in from Mexico. The Counselor meets a middle-man, Westray (Brad Pitt), to develop the deal. Reiner’s sly, manipulative wife Malkina (Cameron Diaz) sets up a heist of the drugs, killing the son of one of the Counselor’s clients (Rosie Perez), and setting in motion the Mexican drug cartels wanting their payment – as the drug cartels begin to chase those responsible for the shipment, the Counselor finds that he might soon have to pay the ultimate price for his involvement.
The Counselor is utter crap. As a movie, it’s around thirty minutes too long, has too little action, and suffers from a case of narcissism so badly I can’t remember how many times my eyeballs rolled back in their sockets. Technically, it’s well made, and has the Ridley Scott stamp of quality on the visual aspects of it all, but Cormac McCarthy’s screenplay is inherently overripe and too convoluted to make much sense, and the characters lack a core truth (Fassbender aside, who gives yet another searing performance of a man undone by his own weaknesses), leaving The Counselor to be a little-bit-violent, a little-bit-sexy, and a whole lot of muddle.
It’s one of those films that struggles with its own identity. The Counselor never seems to know what kind of film it wants to be. As a crime thriller, it’s too stop-start to generate any excitement, while as a drama with drugs, the story is too shallow over too large an area to hit where it needs to. Frankly, watching Fassbender is about the only saving grace here, although Bardem, Pitt and Diaz all deliver memorable performances – Diaz, in particular, provides the film with its funniest/most shocking scene, whereby she pleasures herself against the windscreen of Javier Bardem’s car, with both him and us watching on in stunned amazement. The narrative of the drug shipment, the Counselor’s involvement in it, and the various hangers-on, just seems thematically dim, with Bardem’s drug-kingpin character delivering flamboyant speech after flamboyant speech which amount to almost zero in terms of what the film is about. Or at least, that’s what I took away from the experience.
I guess “experience” is a term you’d use to describe The Counselor overall. It’s certainly a film that should be seen, if not for Fassbender then at least by those wanting to keep tabs on Ridley Scott’s work, but you should be aware that it’s just not a very good movie. Violent, yes – I don’t think I’ve seen so many brutal death scenes in a single film since Saving Private Ryan, with heads being lopped, brains being splattered, bodies being shipped around in drums filled with shit, and all manner of human depravity – all in the name of entertainment. Ridley Scott’s keen eye for detail is evident once more, and the violence is relatively perfunctory in execution (ha!), although a moment with Brad Pitt’s character late in the film, suffering a fate he alluded too earlier on, is particularly pornographic. The violence neither works for the film, or against it; it simply is what it is, I guess.
The biggest problem I had with The Counselor is the verbosity of the screenplay in trying to make some ethereal point out of a pointless story. Each of the characters the Counselor encounters inevitably gives him some kind of wiffly-waffly speech about the meaning of life (or lack thereof), and if this is Ridley’s way of counterpointing the violence and drama with some kind of Circle Of Life mentality, it’s a dismal failure. Rueben Blades’ speech to the Counselor late in the film, trying to impart that he has created his own world for himself by his actions (whaaaa?) is a bunch of double-talk that founders on rocks well before it makes much sense. It’s a lot like that Architect scene in The Matrix Reloaded, you know the one, with the old white haired dude mumbling like he’s vomiting up a thesaurus. About the same level of inanity, too. This is an affliction for much of The Counselor’s running time – characters never know when to shut up, and make a big deal about stuff that is, in all honesty, as boring as batshit.
If The Counselor is ever parodied by one of those Scary Movie-type films, I know exactly which scene they’ll choose to re-shoot. Cameron Diaz, who looks like one of the cheetah’s she spends her time with in this movie, humping a car windscreen. It’s a scene that plays out even more graphically in your brain than it does on the screen (my wife started giggling while it was happening, a sure sign that it would be either physically impossible or downright uncomfortable, I wager) but it highlights many problems with The Counselor as a project overall – it’s uncomfortable, sure, in both tone and meaning, it has a large amount of fat on it that should have been trimmed (an entire subplot with Bruno Ganz’ diamond seller could have been excised and never be missed, so too the Rosie Perez cameo, and a lot of Javier Bardem’s “stories” offer little to the audience) and the outcome is one of flat-footed bile-rising meaninglessness. The nasty overtones, the lack of any hope, and the complete blanket of unpleasant, the-world-is-f@cked decadence in the face of everything, is hard to contrast with the lovely Penelope Cruz’s tragic Laura, who adores her man but is caught up in the whirlwind of death and carnage. Watching her face and reaction when the Counselor gives her that massive diamond ring, to her final fate late in the film, is probably the most heartbreaking thing to come from the whole experience.
I didn’t like The Counselor, and I suspect a lot of you won’t like it either. As I said, technically the film is nice to look at, with Scott’s typical approach to colors, framing and sense of style, but the story is rancid, a mishmash of ideologies that doesn’t seem to translate all that well onto the screen. Fassbender saves it from being a complete pile of shit, but it’s still not far off. Ambivalent characters and over-cooked monologues about the meaning of life, coupled with moments of utter human carnage, leave The Counselor in dire need of a stay of execution from this reviewer.