Cormac McCarthy is no stranger to the big screen, two of his hit novels have been hugely popular in the past few years. Now his first spec script titled The Counselor has been turned into a a feature film, which came with an A-List cast. That could spell an instant hit, but The Counselor has many reasons why it could one of the best movies of the year, while simultaneously being a misfire on so many levels.
A lawyer known only as The Counselor decides to get himself involved in the drug trafficking business, with the help of some of his contacts. Dealing primarily with Reiner and Malkina, a dynamic powerhouse couple akin to the lavish lifestyle and Westray, a womanizing middle man the Counselor decides that 20,000,000 dollars is worth the risk.
Hyper sexualized and lavish, The Counselor doesn't jump to the quickest of starts. We are thrown into a hotel room where Fassbender and Cruz spend the opening scene talking dirty to one another and it never really has a sense of purpose. It shifts to Reiner and Malkina, one a man who doesn't know when to stop, accepting that greed will one day be his downfall and the other a former exotic dancer incapable of displaying human emotions. An interesting set of characters, downright engaging from a fan aspect if you really dig deep enough to think about. Take into consideration that the talents of Fassbender, Cruz, Bardem and Diaz are in the mix and that seems to spell a sure win for a film that has so many layers within the opening 25 minutes. Yet, somehow Cormac McCarthy is able to extend the absurdity to a level beyond comprehension before attempting to reel the film in for a thrilling final act.
One upon viewing this film could argue it is not meant to be the most engaging visual films of the year. A valid point indeed, it sure was meant to be a character piece; one that focused primarily on whether or not these people knew their own limits. However, the problem lies in the long winded dialogue which seemed focused on making a point using metaphors and allegories that didn't fit into the scope of this film. At the heart of it all was a story about risking it all and the risk not paying dividends. Somewhere in that simplicity lies a convoluted message of lust, sex and betrayal and always being one step ahead of everyone else. A note to the producers and McCarthy and that is in the future an A-List cast does not mask the inability to figure out your convoluted message. Unfortunately for all the things that were done right, there was too many that were done wrong and it becomes a blurry mess of tying up loose ends and themes before the final curtain closes.
What this film does right are the smaller moments. The scenes of gratuitous violence are chilling, eerily straight forward and efficiently productive in guiding the plot to it's ultimate destination. Fassbender provides a performance that is worthy of praise on many levels. As the film progresses, Fassbenders interpretation of a desperate man leaves chills running down your spine. When the man breaks down on screen you feel every bit of his emotion coursing through the performance. Brad Pitt is also a great presence in this film, allowing growth to a character that had a very small purpose in the overall plot. Pitt added his own style of wit and charm allowing his character to go off on seemingly random tangents where he spoke of things he had seen and done and even rambled on about snuff films. Diaz had to the be the worst part, her emotionless character Malkina was a caricature of a real person. The scene displaying her overt sexuality on the hood of a ferarri was laugh worthy and the most pointless scene in film history. Her outlandish and overt personality coupled with Bardems insanely ridiculous hairdo created a villainous portrayal that just seemed too far out in left field.
The Counselor ultimately falls victims to it's own shortcomings in the writing department. Cormac McCarthy is widely known for his descriptive and bleak poetic prose. That failed to translate onto the screen, creating a cast of misfits using foreshadows and lyrical description to display their fears for one another. Where it fails is their fears never really feel three dimensional, they never pop from the screen in the way we have seen film of this nature do in the past. As poetic and exquisite as the dialogue attempted to be the visuals never really opened your eyes to those words. It never became more then a wordsmith attempting to use his words to give his characters definitive definition when they needed it most. Great writers open up their words to visual interpretation, but McCarthy's words were never given enough breathing room. They held powerful and meaningful thoughts, but they never gave way to haunting visuals to go a long with them.
The morbid aspect of The Counselor lies within the violence and the disturbing world in which these characters were encompassed. The world was fascinating, and the violence allowed for an abrupt disposable of these 2 dimensional characters. If you are thinking about watching this film, enter at your own risk. It is not all what is show in previews. That statement is not intended to have a negative or positive affect on anyone's future decision to view this film. To be completely frank, the Counselor did have moments of pure brilliance lead by Ridley Scott's direction of his more then willing stars. Definitely one of the most memorable films of 2013, whether you end up liking it or not.