There are so many things wrong with this film, I don't know where to begin, so let's just start with the opening scene. The counselor (Michael Fassbender), who has no other name in this movie --- really? --- and his lover, Laura (Penelope Cruz), are in bed, somewhere in the desert, with the doors wide open and the requisite sheer drapes flowing in the hot, dusty breeze.
It is two o'clock in the afternoon and the two of them are cavorting under the sheets --- okay, we get it --- they're in love, and they enjoy each other sexually. Except, it is 2:00 p.m. and they've been in bed, presumably a long time, and Laura is still wearing an unwrinkled satin, short negligee and looks like a goddess. Yeah, right. While I applaud Ms. Cruz' desire not to appear nude on film, which is rare these days, it seems a tad absurd. Surely, creative director Ridley Scott could have figured out how to shoot this scene with Cruz appearing to be naked. It's a small thing, but a harbinger of more things to come that really bothered me.
We don't know much about the counselor, except that he's been assigned by the court to defend Ruth (Rosie Perez) in her upcoming hearing concerning her murder conviction. And he's wildly in love with Laura --- so much so that he jets off to Amsterdam to buy her a ridiculously huge and expensive diamond --- and he's broke. And what the ring purchase has to do with the remainder of the film is a complete mystery.
He drives a Bentley convertible, but lives in a rather drab, smallish apartment. It's all about "show" --- how he looks, dresses and what he drives. And he's become so desperate that he's willing to get involved with the nastiest of the nasty --- the cartel --- to make a huge score financially, even though his "business" partners, Reiner (Javier Bardem) and Westray (Brad Pitt) have warned him not to get involved.
Written by Cormac McCarthy, known for "No Country for Old Men" (2007), which garnered a Best Actor Oscar for Bardem, and "The Road" (2009), "The Counselor" is a ludicrous tale of greed, betrayal and extreme violence --- and NOT in a good or entertaining way. The sex and violence in this script is meant to shock and titillate --- instead it is nothing more than boring and dull. While it is paramount to a screenplay that one care about the fate of at least one of the protagonists, in "The Counselor" I couldn't have cared less about any of these characters --- they all got what they deserved.
The opening sequence which I described is about as erotic as watching paint dry. Cameron Diaz is cast as Malkina, Reiner's main squeeze. In a vile and repulsive scene, Malkina performs a sexual act on the windshield of Reiner's Ferrari. McCarthy must have been conjuring up that little ditty for quiet a while, but the absurdity, once again, makes it less than sensual.
Actually, the best part of that scene is Bardem and his reaction. He is the only actor in this sorry excuse for a thriller who is any good. Had it not been for him and his performance, "The Counselor" would have been worse than a "Don't Bother!" Diaz simply cannot act, and casting her as a tough "broad" certainly doesn't work. She looks like she's been "rode hard and put away wet", instead of the chic, international "business woman" she is supposedly portraying.
Another throwaway scene has her trying to confess to a Catholic priest in the local church. Not only does it have nothing to add to the storyline, it is entirely offensive. The whole script is offensive --- we can predict everything before it happens. There is NO suspense --- just gratuitous violence --- and not like the silliness of "Machete Kills".
Men, boys and some women will be drawn to this film because of the cast and the trailers. Unfortunately, "The Counselor" is not up to Scott's usual standards --- production was halted when his brother, Tony Scott, committed suicide in August 2012. Perhaps that's the reason this movie is such a mess. Or, it's the inane script. David thinks the dialogue is snappy with great repartee. I think McCarthy philosophizes way too much. NO ONE wants to go to a movie and be preached to --- we get enough of that from our politicians.
Opinion: HUGE Don't Bother!
It looks like "The Counselor" is one of those movies you either love or hate. If you read my partner's review, you know where she stands. I happen to like this film very much, so let's start with its pedigree.
Direction: Ridley Scott --- the 76-year-old British filmmaker is known for such classics as "Alien", "Blade Runner", Thelma & Louise" and "Black Hawk Down". He also has the good sense to produce one of the best shows on television, "The Good Wife".
Writing: Cormac McCarthy --- this octogenarian penned "No Country for Old Men" --- so he knows how to create sustained suspense and disturbing moments of quality violence, as opposed to the gratuitous kind.
Cast: superb, with Michael Fassbender, Javier Bardem, Cameron Diaz, Penelope Cruz and Brad Pitt.
The over-riding message in "The Counselor" is that you don't mess with the Mexican drug cartel --- unless you don't mind having your head separated from your body, or some other ghastly demise. While the movie builds its story slowly, there is a constant presence of dread which hints that its protagonist, and some of the other characters, could be in grave danger at any moment. While some viewers may find it tedious, it's disquieting anticipation, and the sharp dialogue has the viewer hanging on every word.
Our hero in this film is the slick, tall and handsome attorney known only as the counselor (Fassbender). The counselor is easy going and likeable, and is in business with Reiner (Bardem), who is smitten with the mysterious and sultry Malkina (Diaz).
He appears to have money --- drives a Bentley and buys a huge diamond ring for his beautiful girlfriend, Laura (Cruz). But he's actually broke, so he gets involved, as a backer, in a drug deal that promises to yield $20 million to its participants.
The orchestrator of the cocaine exchange is the smooth-talking Westray (Pitt). Pitt has only a few scenes, but they are convincingly scary. His meetings with the counselor suggest major problems if things don't go according to plan, and of course, they don't.
It is Fassbender's best performance of his career, including his recent role in "12 Years a Slave". When the counselor realizes that the drug deal is going badly, his breezy, confident demeanor changes dramatically to one of sheer terror, and Fassbender is totally believable in the role. In fact, the entire cast is impeccable.
I know Jeanne doesn't much care for Diaz' turn, but then Jeanne doesn't think much of her acting ability. As Malkina, Diaz is sexy, smart and threatening, all at the same time, with just the right amount of nastiness. Cruz' big scene in a parking garage is a nail biter, as is Pitt's concluding sequence. And Bardem is, well, Bardem, always the consummate actor. A barely recognizable Rosie Perez plays a murder convict, and she and Fassbender's verbal joust is a hoot.
Despite what some viewers/critics are calling slow and dull, I found "The Counselor" to be anything but. The dialogue is crisp and refreshing, and even though the story is largely predictable, it still maintains its suspense and shock value.
Opinion: See It Now!