Friday, December 19, 2014

The Counselor

Directed by Ridley Scott.
2013. Rated R, 118 minutes.
Michael Fassbender
Brad Pitt
Javier Bardem
Cameron Diaz
Penelope Cruz
Rosie Perez
Toby Kebbell
Natalie Dormer
Ruben Blades

Getting involved with Mexican drug cartels is a bad idea. That's basically The Counselor in a nutshell. In case this was somehow open to debate we, along with our protagonist, are told this very thing numerous times using various cautionary anecdotes throughout the course of the movie. When I say cautionary, I don't mean as in someone saying this sort of thing might possibly be dangerous. I mean cautionary as in whatever comes out of Brad Pitt's mouth is going to happen to someone in the movie exactly as he warns.

If you haven't seen The Counselor, you might be trying to figure out what I'm babbling about. Let me give you a quick rundown on the plot. The Counselor (Fassbender), that's really all he's ever called, is a wealthy dirt-bag defense lawyer who represents a number of wealthy dirt-bag criminals. I'm guessing he's doing pretty well since they're not in prison, still using his services, and he has a fairly lavish lifestyle. Obviously, that's not enough so he decides to get in on a really high dollar drug deal with Reiner (Bardem) and Westray (Pitt), a couple of his clients. Yes, a Mexican cartel is on the other end of this thing. Early on, both guys give our hero chances to back out before it's too late. Yeah well, no. He stands to make too much money for that. And where there are drug deals going down, there must be gorgeous women on hand. There's Laura (Cruz), The Counselor's certainly not virginal, but devoutly Catholic girlfriend that he plans to marry. There is also Malkina (Diaz). She's the hyper-sexual, unabashedly gold-digging moll of Reiner. Westray flies solo. Stuff ensues.

Unfortunately, all the stuff that happens never amounts to a hill of beans. Most of these things are either done for shock value, or are heavy-handed foreshadowing. The former type leads to some interesting and memorable scenes. I, for one, won't soon forget the sight of a presumably pantiless Cameron Diaz spread-eagle and humping the windshield of a Ferrari while Javier Bardem describes the view from inside the vehicle. Nor will I forget her, clad only in a towel, talking dirty to and rubbing up on Penelope Cruz, needlessly getting my hopes up. The problem is that even though wild things keep happening they are bereft of any cinematic weight, whatsoever. They never affect the outcome in any tangible way. Instead, right from the start, we just barrel toward our inevitable and hardly surprising conclusion. Whatever rise we get from the film's insanity serves as a poor replacement for dramatic tension.

Any enjoyment we might gleam from this movie is due to the Herculean efforts of its cast. Most fun, Cameron Diaz vamps it up with reckless abandon. Her role is a ridiculous one, to be sure. Rather than shy away from that fact, she fills both fists with ham and goes for broke. While the movie is a whole presents its subject matter with dire seriousness, she adds an element of camp that livens things up whenever she appears. Similarly, Javier Bardem seems to be having a grand time with a character who is nearly as silly. He delivers almost every line with tongue planted in cheek as if he himself can't believe what he's saying. Brad Pitt is also fun in a role akin to a narrator. He show up, warns our hero, tells us what's going to happen and disappears for a while. Like Bardem, he almost seems incredulous to the words he's spewing.

Sadly, the people who should be the most interesting are the exact opposite. Michael Fassbender just moves back and forth between Bardem and Pitt receiving advice from both. This means he spends most of his time sitting and listening while they dominate the screen. By the way, he never heeds any of that advice. Never. That character flaw drives whatever plot there is, but doesn't make him the least bit compelling. As the love of his life, Penelope Cruz just isn't given anything to do, not to mention she feels miscast as the naive and innocent girlfriend. She and Fassbender are both fine actors, but neither is challenged, here.

Not being a challenge is ultimately The Counselor's biggest issue. The movie sets him up as if he is experiencing an epic moral dilemma. In reality, he's just a dumbass. Everything that happens is a result of his own stubbornness and arrogance. This makes the sympathy necessary to the success of a cautionary tale non-existent. Why should we care that some idiot screws things up after repeatedly being warned. Some people who should know better just don't believe fire is hot until they get burned. Therefore, I don't feel sorry for any of these people, with the possible exception of Cruz's character. Therein lies my problem with this movie. Stupid humans doing stupid things and having stupid things happen to them is pointless. Still, the A-list cast salvages what they can  and helps make the movie very watchable, regardless of how dispassionate we may be about the main character.


  1. LOL at this movie. Like, I wanted this to be so great, but it was just was all so dumb! I couldn't even consider it watchable dumbness because Scott's direction was so choppy and awfully constructed.

    Great job of voicing your opinion here, though. You pretty much outlined why this movie was a terrible failure.

    1. I wanted it to be great, too. The idea of it is awesome. The execution of it is awful. Thanks.

  2. This movie was such a let down, Ugh. I agree with everything you said here though. Nice write up!

    1. Everything about it on the surface says it should be great, but it isn't. So yeah, major letdown. Thanks.

  3. Ha ha! I love this >>>>> "The movie sets him up as if he is experiencing an epic moral dilemma. In reality, he's just a dumbass." I was looking forward to this movie until the underwhelming reviews started coming out; then I never got around to watching it. Maybe I won't bother. It's a shame -- it has a great cast.

    And yes, getting involved with Mexican drug cartels is never a good plan. If someone needed more confirmation, after seeing this movie, he could watch the television series The Bridge. :)

    1. Thanks. Sadly, it's true. That it has such a great cast is a huge reason I'm hugely disappointed with this.