Academy Award winning director Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Gladiator). Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Cormac McCarthy (The Road, No Country For Old Men). Michael Fassbender. Brad Pitt. Javier Bardem. Penelope Cruz. Cameron Diaz. What happened here? A squandered opportunity. With such a pedigree preceding the collaboration and such magnificent ingredients, it is hard not to walk into The Counselor with some level of anticipation and expectation. But few would have foreseen such a tedious and inanimate result.
I enjoy films that try something different and pose a challenge for the audience, but The Counselor is tough work, encumbered by a thin, confusing plot and inconsequential and overwritten monologues and anecdotes, while throwing at an audience blatant misogyny, windshield sex, high speed decapitations and a lot of other nasty business. I wasn’t a fan, though I thought there were some fascinating characters and terrific patches of dialogue.
The story is set on the Tex/Mex border (a staple in McCarthy’s novels) and we are immediately introduced to the titular protagonist (Fassbender), referred to as ‘The Counselor’ by everyone, including his beautiful girlfriend Laura (Cruz). This handsome smooth talker has built up a position of power and as he needs to continue to fund his lavish lifestyle – buying his fiancé a diamond ring with as few carrots as possible is in the works – he decides to further capitalize on it. The Counselor joins the party of Reiner (Bardem), an eccentrically attired (and haired) client who puts him in touch with a middleman named Westray (Pitt) who warns him not to get involved with the Mexican cartel, and the considered smuggling operation. We are also introduced to Reiner’s girlfriend Malkina (Diaz), a tattooed ice queen with pet cheetahs and her own agenda. When the deal goes bad – the loot gets stolen, and The Counselor, having bailed out a biker as a personal favor to an incarcerated client, is consequently tied to it all. He finds himself entangled and out of his depth in this unforgiving and merciless underworld.
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