Starring Michael Fassbender, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem
Genre: Thriller/Crime Drama
Despite being a wealthy and successful Lawyer, a man referred to only as ‘Counsellor’ (Fassbender) finds his vast wealth dwindling and so his ability to provide for his gorgeous fiancé (Penélope Cruz). To raise some quick cash he and associate Reiner (Bardem) become involved with drug trafficking for the deal to go horribly wrong. Though this all occurred through fault of his own, in this murky world you make your own luck and Counsellor, his fiancé, Reiner, Reiner’s girlfriend Malkina (Diaz) and Counsellor’s adviser Westray (Brad Pitt) all find their lives caught up in and changed forever by the consequences of this one piece of uncontrollable bad luck.
Well if there was ever a film this year that divided critics it seemed to be The Counsellor (spelt with two ‘Ls’ in Great Britain). I know this has been said before, but with celebrated author Cormack McCarthy writing the original script, the great Ridley Scott directing and that impressive cast list (though I have never personally rated Diaz), as well as very intriguing trailers, it was all set for a great little thriller. Well, I have to say that The Counsellor has to go down as a massive fail. The fault for me does not lay with the cast; with the exception of the horrifically miscast Diaz, they all give impressive turns. Even though his accent wobbles all over the place, Fassbender is in my view a terrific screen presence and gives a committed turn worthy of any protagonist. Ridley Scott too I feel does a great job (considering); his direction and camera work is minimalistic in style and the occasionally moments of extreme violence are brutal but clinical in execution, perfectly suited to the tone of the film and complements Dariusz Wolski’s effective and atmospheric cinematography. Though of course questions can be asked of all of them if they read the script before making The Counsellor, but at least their efforts are all admirable.
Ah yes, the script, well that of course leaves one man: Cormack McCarthy, his screenplay is quite simply cryptic for the sake of it, smug, pretentious and rubbish. This story is of course nothing new and at its heart was an interesting story evaluating some of the repercussions of us giving in to our weaknesses. Things do start off well; we know very little of the details of this deal and we do not need to, this is a good thing in my view as the only important for the narrative is that it has gone wrong and the repercussions that follow. Then it just goes gradually downhill and descends into a boring, self indulgent and often insulting film, all because of the screenplay. After some of his novels such as No Country for Old Men and The Road becoming very good films (he was not credited as being involved in the screenplay process) perhaps McCarthy thought this screenwriting malarkey is a doddle and decided to have a go. The dialogue may look good as McCarthy writes it on the page and indeed may look good in a novel when the writer controls everything and describes everything, but when said on the screen in The Counsellor it is often quite simply either embarrassing, annoying or often both at the same time.
The fact is for me that no matter how good the acting, directing etc. When the dialogue in a dialogue heavy film is so cringe worthy and bad it is impossible to be saved. We are given scenes that mean nothing and just add to the overlong running time, constant metaphor heavy and apparently ‘philosophical’ dialogue and Cameron Diaz having sex with a car (!). I have seen arguments as to what it all means, and of course a film can mean whatever you want it to mean, but it is all pretty obvious really. This is not helped when one character spouts out some apparently cryptic metaphor and the other character then asks “so what are you trying to say”, and the other character explains. If this was clever dialogue (it isn’t) then surely that then undermines it and proves that Cormack McCarthy has not only disappeared right up his own arse, but believes he is far more intelligent than anyone watching this film.
As the messy narrative clunks along things get increasingly boring and tedious (and occasionally very bloody), making the whole experience extremely alienating. I never expected to care about the characters as they are predominantly corrupt and greedy, but when I do not even care what happens to them or the actual story then surely the film has failed. Ok, so it is not horrifically bad (mainly due to the acting and directing), and I also felt there was one great scene near the end when Fassbender is talking to a Cartel boss. This scene was superbly written and acted, unnerving to watch and was for me a little surprising. Not only was it at that point way too late to save the film, it was also a depressing reminder of just how much The Counsellor is a case of wasted potential.
The Counsellor serves as a perfect example of Hollywood complacency, and frustratingly a case of wasted potential with one of the smuggest, deluded and self indulgent scripts of the year destroying all potential in its wake.