Susan Granger’s review of “The Counselor” (20th Century-Fox)
Notable as the first original screenplay from acclaimed Southern-Gothic writer Cormac McCarthy and directed by Ridley Scott with a star-studded cast, this turns out to be a disastrous, muddled mess of a movie.
As an attorney, the titular Texas Counselor (Michael Fassbender) encounters all sorts of disreputable people: men like weird, wild-haired nightclub owner Reiner (Javier Bardem) and sly, smooth-talking Westray (Brad Pitt) and women like Reiner’s femme fatale girl-friend, callously manipulative Malkina (Cameron Diaz), and a jittery jailbird, Ruth (Rosie Perez), whose son is a motorcycle maniac. So when this rather naïve lawyer, ignoring explicit warnings about the risks involved, makes a pivotal choice to participate in a dangerous, $20 million drug trafficking deal, involving cocaine stashed in a septic truck that’s driven across the border from Mexico to El Paso en route to Chicago, it’s a fateful one that will not only affect his life but also that of his beloved fiancée, Laura (Penelope Cruz).
Novelist Cormac McCarthy (“No Country for Old Men,” “The Road”) weaves a clumsy, confusing plot, filled with ambiguous, yet archetypal characters who are totally detached, lacking in any emotional connection. His dense dialogue contains Shakespearean-like soliloquies, filled with pithy, psychological pathos, like “You are the world you have created.” Coupled with that, there’s Ridley Scott’s (“Alien,” “Blade Runner,” “Gladiator,” “Prometheus”) surprising lack of visual excitement within an increasing sense of dread. Scott’s coldly plodding pacing compels viewers to work hard to pay attention, despite the plethora of steamy, sexually graphic scenes and intense, unrelenting violence.
However, there are vivid, memorable moments: the opening sex-under-the-sheets sequence, elegantly collared cheetahs chasing their prey through the desert, tattooed Malkina’s toying interlude in the Church confessional and, above all, her ludicrous, gynecological gyrations on the windshield of Reiner’s yellow Ferrari. Then there’s the introduction of the bolito, a mechanical decapitation device involving a wire loop and self-powered motor.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Counselor” is a bleak, formidable 4. This brutal, depressing, cautionary tale may be an actor’s dream but it’s an audience’s nightmare.