Presented as an attempt to continue the success of movies based on Cormac McCarthy’s novels, The Counselor features McCarthy’s first completely original screenplay. It will likely be his last too.
The Counselor is a movie with incredible aspirations. It has a fantastic cast, features veteran Ridley Scott behind the camera as director, and is written by Cormac McCarthy. Unfortunately, one of these three contributors does not pull their weight and the whole thing falls apart. Cormac McCarthy has written many popular novels, including The Road and No Country for Old Men, both of which were adapted for the silver screen and were well received. Therefore it is feasible to assume that since McCarthy wrote these novels, which turned into hit movies, surely he could write a movie script that would do the same. Plus, you’d also assume that writing a movie script from scratch rather than adapting it from a novel would be easier. You can tell a story that is meant for the silver screen, not have to worry about condensing it to fulfill the purpose.
Something went wrong. McCarthy’s script is a mess and the movie suffers because of it. You could blame the film makers for choosing the script in the first place, or you could applaud their ambitiousness for deciding to go ahead with it. Either way, the fact remains the same. McCarthy failed to deliver. At 80 years old you could make the argument that McCarthy is too out of touch with modern movie audiences to be able to write something they would consider entertaining. This would explain the bizarre structure to the story and lack of closure to the film. Or you could argue that after all his success he is a little full of himself and as a result his script is too pretentious. This too would help to explain why the dialogue is so convoluted and why some of the film is shockingly disturbing. Maybe it is a combination of both.
While very beautiful and well-acted, the film is rarely entertaining. It attempts to be an edgy and violent thriller, but falls into too many easily-avoidable traps. These traps include the fact that many of the films’ characters like to talk about exotic ways of dying, only to predictably become victims of those exotic methods later on. Another trap, for example, occurs when the film attempts to avoid having a typical exposition. This leaves the audience struggling to put the pieces together from the beginning, and tearing their hair out whenever a new character is randomly inserted for a scene or two later on. Perhaps the biggest let down is the dialogue. Full of philosophy and allegorical references, the characters’ lines are supposed to be like modern Shakespeare. Instead, everyone feels fake. No one talks like this in real life, and as a result, you can’t connect with any of the characters and don’t really care what happens to any of them. Furthermore, if these people can speak with so much proficiency and expertise, why do their actions make them seem clueless and dumb? The execution of the film is fine. The performances are good. The script makes it all worthless.
Story: "The Counselor" is a wealthy lawyer who tries his hand at the drug trafficking business with the Mexican Cartel. His friend Reiner is just as greedy as him, and is trying to show him the ropes. The shipment of drugs being funded by the counselor is on its way into the US when the counselor makes the mistake of aiding a criminal who was intent on stealing this shipment. The Cartel assumes that the counselor is trying to steal the shipment for his own benefit and they start hunting him down along with his accomplices. Can the counselor escape in time or is the enemy already too close for him to get away? Bad (2/10)
Acting: Michael Fassbender stars as the counselor. Fassbender does well to portray the various emotional states that the character goes through, but the script is lacking in detail to make the character complete. The audience will enjoy Fassbender’s performance, but is never given a clear picture of who this person really is or what he wants. Penelope Cruz plays the counselor’s love interest, and her naïve persona is fitting and adds something to the movie that the other characters don’t. Javier Bardem plays Reiner. He does well to create an interesting, colorful, and at times heart-felt character, but again the script makes it difficult to like him because his flamboyant escapades make him seem rather dumb compared to the articulate and insightful way he talks. Cameron Diaz plays Reiner’s love interest and never quite feels comfortable or suitable for the importance of the role. Finally, there is Brad Pitt, an accomplice who advises the counselor. Pitt is as charismatic as ever, but like most of the other characters, the script compromises his character. The supporting cast is also up to the task. Good (7.5/10)
Direction: Ridley Scott tries his best to make McCarthy’s script interesting, but his efforts, while consistent and often visually stunning, aren’t capable of pulling it off. To be truthful there wasn’t much Scott could have done, which begs the question of why they decided to shoot a film based on this script in the first place. Ridley Scott’s direction is crisp, colorful, and highly detailed. His work in this film plays homage to some of his past projects as director. You’ll recognize scenes that visually would be right at home in some of his other films, including Thelma and Louise, Blade Runner, Gladiator, Blackhawk Down, and Body of Lies. Ultimately, Ridley Scott is unable to maintain the pacing to match his exciting visuals. The film lacks sufficient back story to fill in the story, which is likely caused by both the poor script and material being cut from the film to keep it more thrilling. Those efforts to keep things concise don’t pay off, especially towards the end of the film when the time elapsed between scenes gets longer and longer. The story makes sense on a basic level, but there is a lot of guessing done by the audience due to insufficient details and not having enough understanding of the characters to begin with. Okay (6/10)
Special Effects/X-Factor: There aren’t too many opportunities for action and special effects in this film, but when there are they fit into the visual style. What is impressive is the cinematography. The colors and tone of the film are fantastic, which makes the fact that the script is horrible that much more difficult to swallow. This is a film that wastes a great director, a great cast, and some exciting ideas. If anything, it proves that movies require a writing style which some authors, even ones as well adept as Cormac McCarthy, may not be able to fully grasp. Furthermore, if you’re trying to make a sophisticated and gritty thriller in the vein of a Michael Mann film, make sure the audience has fun watching it. Overall, this film is another lesson for Hollywood that they probably won’t learn from. Bad (2.5/10)