The Counselor

Movie Review #863


By Alexander Diminiano


Premiered October 3, 2013 (London)
Released October 25, 2013 (nationwide)
Crime, Drama, Thriller
Rated R (contains graphic violence, disturbing content, strong sexual content, profanity)

“It’s not that you’re going down, Counselor. It’s what you’re taking down with you.” – Brad Pitt in “The Counselor”

At one point not too long ago, I tried reading Cormac McCarthy’s screenplay for “The Counselor”. I thought it would be interesting. After all, McCarthy wrote the book that inspired “No Country for Old Men”, one of the best movies of 2007. The screenplay started out like a book that gives bits of story. You have to trust that if you keep reading, everything’s going to come together eventually.

Needless to say, I was too bored to get more than 20 pages into the screenplay, and my first impressions of it were wrong. The sad part about this is that I had to learn this by watching the movie it became. This movie is pure vileness. Every one of its characters is motivated to do the sickest, most terrible things for money. Which is sort of funny, because it reflects Ridley Scott’s effort on the movie: he has directed one of the most confusing movies I have ever seen, and I don’t have the slightest doubts that he’s done it for el dinero.

“The Counselor” is a messy crime movie that wants so badly to look like a crime movie that it never hits the right notes in its story. (And half the time, it doesn’t even look like that. It looks like a TV ad for Armani suits.) There’s one scene where we can tell it’s using its head, and even that scene presents mathematics, not creativity. Then there’s scenes where it’s really not using its head. Like, in what world can a cheetah sit on a lawn chair by an outdoor pool, or by the piano at a nightclub? Is that intended as symbolism, and if so, just what is it supposed to mean?

That “The Counselor” does not give Mel Brooks an acknowledgment or a “based on” credit is disheartening. Clearly, the film was inspired by a quote from “The Producers”, spoken by Zero Mostel: “Once you got it, flaunt it, baby, flaunt it!” God, does “The Counselor” flaunt it. It’s flashy in the most unkind way. It’s in-your-face flashy, the kind that only gives you closeups of a character’s face if he happens to be holding up a three-and-a-half-karat diamond four inches from his eyes. The kind that distracts us from everything with Javier Bardem’s suit, which most likely was previous worn by Liberace. The kind that enjoys distracting us from what’s going on with neon-colored walls.

But forget that the movie likes to distract us from what’s going on. The question we’re constantly asking ourselves is, in fact, “What’s going on?” Cormac McCarthy’s dialogue-fueled drama is filled with odd, confusing, and unrealistic dialogue, and for the record, this is the same Cormac McCarthy who wrote the book that inspired “No Country for Old Men”. I was as clueless about the movie’s plot as I was two hours before. It’s a movie about some sort of corrupt business, I’m pretty sure. Which could mean drug smuggling, but it’s pretty hard to tell, especially when drugs aren’t exactly shown or mentioned here. All we really know from the cryptic storytelling and the murky dialogue is that these people are probably involved in something illegal, and they’re getting money in return.

These folks can say all they want, but they’re speaking as if they’re being watched closely by people who could easily hinder their criminal actions. Their dialogue seems to be in code. Can I just say all that in simple terms? We never have a clue what anybody’s talking about in this movie. We can tell when something’s gone wrong because expletives start appearing more frequently. How we can tell just what has gone wrong, I’m not quite sure. We can tell when something’s gone right if someone laughs and smiles with that victorious facial expression. But what’s exactly making this person feel victorious? Who knows.

I should rephrase. They aren’t talking “in code” for the whole movie. For some reason, these characters seem to discuss sex very freely. Which is very odd, because anything with relation to the subject that they do talk about isn’t really worth hearing about. The movie opens up with one of the most awkward sex scenes in recent memory, and in this moment we learn the first thing about the characters portrayed by Michael Fassbender and Penélope Cruz: they lack every last bit of chemistry as an onscreen couple. But this scene is nothing compared to a flashback seen later on, when Javier Bardem recounts one of the most bizarre memories a human being could have. Let’s just say that it involves Cameron Diaz and the windshield of an expensive car.

If “Counselor” is meant to be an honorary title like “Godfather,” the role shouldn’t have been played by Michael Fassbender. Brad Pitt, who offers the only interesting performance here, should be the one crowned “Counselor,” if anybody. Fassbender practically cowers at the sight of Pitt. Not that he really makes the movie any better. “The Counselor”, for 70 straight minutes, is talking, talking, talking. Then we get a mindlessly bloody, “Bonnie and Clyde”-esque action sequence. Then more talking, and even more after that. Finally, we end on a bizarre, bloody, Cronenberg-esque finale, as if we weren’t already convinced that the movie makes absolutely no sense. The most shameful fact to face about the film is that it was directed by Ridley Scott. Yes…that Ridley Scott.


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