Article By: Dan Clark
Have you been bad? That is the question that permeates throughout Ridley Scott’s latest directorial effort The Counselor. Scott has crafted an erotic crime thriller that oozes sleaze with an enormous sense of pride. For a director that has had a rather long illustrious career this latest effort may be his most unusual and ambiguous. While one can appreciate Scott’s willingness to travel into a new territory, his unfamiliarity may be the big reason why The Counselor simply does not work. With a fragmented plot and deficient characters it is hard to tie down. So much is thrown at the screen in such a haphazard manner one wonders if there was ever a point outside straightforward exploitation.
In the film Michael Fassbender plays a character that is only referred to as the Counselor. Of course his desires are greater than winning a few court cases and depositions. He begins some shady dealings that get him involved with a Mexican drug cartel. As often is the case with these types of agreements things go horribly wrong. Due to a great deal of backstabbing the Counselor finds himself the target of the cartel. With no place to turn he must find a way to not only save his life, but the lives of those he cares about most.
To thoroughly explain what happens in The Counselor would require a series of venn diagrams, pie charts, and a thirty minute director’s commentary where Ridley Scott provides an explanation into what was happening—assuming that he can. Now, a clear-cut plot is by no means a requirement. I’m all for a story that is willing to keep you guessing. The Counselor does not keep you guessing however, it keeps you waiting…and waiting. Hoping all its sheer craziness will eventually lead to some sort of purpose. Unfortunately it never evolves into anything beyond that an incendiary series of non sequiturs.
Performances here are a mixed bag. Fassbender is his normal powerful self as he elevates most of the material he is given. Javier Bardem, who plays the Counselor’s spiky haired partner in crime, brings some much-needed moments of levity. On the other side Penélope Cruz is wasted as her character is ill-defined as nothing more than the Counselor’s love interest. She is the innocent soul that becomes corrupted by the sins of others. If only the film gave you the opportunity to care about this fall from grace. Brad Pitt too shows up, but forgets to bring his talent with him.
Easily the biggest misfire was Cameron Diaz as the voluptuous Malkina, a character who only cares about the lives of her beloved cheetahs and her own selfish desires. Every word she speaks is some form of manipulation. She uses her erotic prowess to hypnotize others into doing her bidding. One specific act on top the windshield will certainly be etched into your memories long after the film is over. All this provocation is so extreme it becomes meaningless and repetitive. Putting Diaz in this role may have been a mistake because she never feels authentic. Sure she has the look to pull it off, but her acting would feel unrealistic in the campiest of daytime Soap Operas. She is like a James Bond villain that has gone off the deepest of deep ends.
Similar to James Bond, The Counselor is filled sexual innuendo—minus the innuendo. Right from the beginning it is evident its use of sex will be blatantly unfiltered. Dialog normally reserved 1-900 sex lines is spoken with the utmost seriousness. This sexual nature is juxtaposed against a great deal of extreme violence. Beheadings quickly become a common occurrence. On basic shock value level this desire to provoke provides some entertainment, and succeeds at keeping you intrigued. Once the realization sets in that there is nothing more than surface level shock that intrigue turns into boredom.
Knowing this is an adaptation of an acclaimed Cormac McCarthy does help explain many of he explored themes. There are instances of some elegant woven dialog that I am sure work wonders on paper. In the transformation to film something must have been lost along the way. What you are left with is a vapidly shallow tale of the exploits of paper-thin characters. Considering the talent involved The Counselor could have been one of the better films of the year. Instead the end product is in such disarray it ends up being one of this year’s biggest disappointments.