Directed by: Ridley Scott Cast: Michael Fassbender, Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt, Cameron Diaz, Penelope Cruz Running Time: 1 hr 57 mins Rating: R Release Date: October 25, 2013
PLOT: A counselor (Fassbender) invests in a cartel drug deal that rears deadly consequences to those around him
WHO'S IT FOR? Fans of Ridley Scott who weren't turned off by the weird faults of Prometheus; those who like when big-budget films are unabashedly strange.
A flamboyant Texan noir centered around the journey of a stinky septic truck and featuring a car sex scene that beats Michael Bay at his own game, Cormac McCarthy's first original screenplay unravels itself with the tediousness of jumbled Christmas lights, even long after the film has been viewed. Using longwinded schemes to ultimately reclaim the line "You can't stop what's coming" from the Coen Brothers, The Counselor becomes continuously messy as the movie declares to be full of shit, just as much as it may appear to be full of everything else.
As the owner of the film's most normal hairdo, Fassbender's title character is the straight man who goes crooked, a seemingly perfect specimen (you'd let him borrow your phone, wouldn't you?) who becomes the film's center martyr of greed. As a course of events begin to carry him away helplessly a la the "50 Year Storm" in Point Break, Fassbender eventually finds himself in a very emotional third act, ruminating intimately on the pain of death. He pulls off an impressive physical feat for acting by taking his emotions from zero-to-sixty at the sight of the word "Hola!"
Fassbender is supported by a marquee list of other actors, usually strong performers here playing characters of weak construction, given dialogue that can't enliven the odd hues each brings to the story. Brad Pitt, for example, thankfully loses his "Magical Brad" aura from previous 2013 movies 12 Years a Slave and World War Z, but lacks a few character chromosomes to earn significance, especially when the film is already coated with other questionably wise men. Javier Bardem's screentime as a powerful goofball is overshadowed by his blowout haircut, and his opposite love interest Cameron Diaz is on-board for the same reason that Justin Timberlake often gets acting work, to play weak individuals who are non-believable as claimers of machismo. Penelope Cruz plays Fassbender's love interest and an innocent bystander caught in the cross-hairs, rounding up the softer side of The Counselor's mission to show the old-fashioned influence that women have on the well-being of men, for worse and for even more worse.
Punctuated with sprawling diatribes of BS philosophies, The Counselor is a splatter of themes, images, characters, and tones, nonetheless set on a blockbuster size canvas with no hope of discipline. Some characters will pop in for one scene with little purpose, while others have five minute monologues that divert from an already wobbly line of story. Such episodes (including a scene in a confessional, and a random appearance by Toby Kebbell) do not service any growth to characters, or provide momentum to this tale of a fool's bad luck.
Ridley Scott, renowned blockbuster auteur who previously made an Alien sorta-sequel rife with both creationist taffy and plot craters, is similarly no more riveted here to trim the freewheeling insanity that is McCarthy's script. It's quite probable that Scott simply cinematically copy-and-pasted McCarthy's material, leaving all tangents in place so that no deleted scenes are available from this very rough final cut. While handling this material in such a medium transition, Scott expresses no interest in taking this story out of tone limbo, allowing its uncertain bounds of silliness and landfill graveyard seriousness to gruesomely bleed onto each other. McCarthy's script sticks to its instincts of bizarre behavior, which makes the wild events of The Counselor assuredly unexpected, but increasingly difficult.
Any quiet hopes that The Counselor would settle down on its more efficient presentation as a charcoal comedy are trumped by a morose third act, which is Scott's own embrace of McCarthy's affections for bad luck that damns the fool and his friends, taken to a darker extent that yearns to communicate real pain in guilt-filled grief. In true fashion for this film, these important, somber bits of emotional philosophy (its most sound statements, to be sure) are from one-scene characters who are used as mouthpieces. This is then followed up with a scene in which a main character states, "You can sell diamonds on Mars." The Counselor may very well not be a film from this planet.
FINAL SCORE: 4/10