The Counselor isn’t so much a movie as it is a eulogy.
Running time: 117 min.
Stars: Michael Fassbender, Javier Bardem, Penélope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Brad Pitt
Penned by peerless fiction author Cormac McCarthy (responsible for the masterful No Country for Old Men), The Counselor forces just about every character, played by uniformly charismatic actors and actresses, to spew one unintentionally hilarious monologue after the next.
The film opens with two gorgeous human beings (played Michael Fassbender and Penelope Cruz) making love. They’ve been away from each other for some time now and the passion that comes along with separation is palpable.
That is, until Scott awkwardly places the camera on their faces. The two begin making small talk. The random ruminations are quickly ditched for the sake of pleasure.
Fassbender goes below the equator and performs what we the audience could only possibly perceive to be (through Cruz’s concupiscent panting and moaning) the greatest cunnilingus in the history of oral stimulation.
Somehow, someway, The Counselor manages to make this opening rendezvous devoid of eroticism.
What follows is a simple story made unnecessarily complicated. Fassbender plays the titular title character whose name is never revealed to us.
Also not disclosed to the audience is the sticky situation Counselor has gotten himself into, forcing him to go into business with Reiner (Bardem), a man living the luxurious life in El Paso, Texas with Malkina (Cameron Diaz).
All we know is that the two have invested money into a drug deal. When that drug deal goes awry, the Mexican cartel – out of some 20 million dollars – put the blame on Counselor and Reiner.
The vague plot comes with the territory I suppose. The details of this story are either hazy or entirely spared.
In the morally bankrupt world Ridley Scott has haphazardly crafted, conversation has been replaced with didactic, all-encompassing allocutions – from the acceptance of fate to coping with the loss of a loved one, to the enigmatic nature of sex.
On that note, The Counselor goes so far as to describe and present a scene (told through flashbacks by Reiner) in which Malkina hops onto the hood of the car, does the splits, and then proceeds to gyrate up against the windshield into she finally climaxes as Reiner sits in the passenger seat in amazement.
This is the type of sequence Scott creates for us; disparate scenes strung together only by the title card at the beginning and end of the movie. In fact, at times The Counselor seems so unconcerned with its own narrative you get the sense you’re watching a considerably less pensive and sumptuous Terrence Malick movie.
Thankfully, the film isn’t a complete unmitigated disaster. One scene in particular stands out.
Towards the end of the story, the Counselor heads down to Cuidad Juarez to retrieve Laura (Penelope Cruz) who has been kidnapped by the cartel. After little success, he heads to a bar to soak in the pain.
By now Laura has likely been decapitated, his money has vanished, and his life is in ruins. Eventually the Counselor passes out. The bar closes and the owner wakes him up. Dazed and confused, the owner warns him not to leave, not go outside in the middle of the night, “they’ll shoot you” he proclaims.
This is what has become of Mexico. Pitch black in the dead of night, anyone who wanders the streets will be gunned down – no matter who you are.
The owner converses with the Counselor, saying they (the cartel) do this to show the futility of life and death. The unnamed owner goes onto tell him about his family – a wife and his two little girls – all of whom have been murdered.
He, like the Counselor, is left only with the misery that comes along with the absence of love and family. Whether Scott is attempting to make a socio-political comment on the corrupt state of Mexico is irrelevant in this moment. It’s a tender scene of genuine emotion in a film generally averse to such.
The Counselor ends soon after that interaction, much to the chagrin of no one. Unfortunate as it is to pronounce, Ridley Scott and Cormac McCarthy have handcrafted a tried and true dud of a movie, an embarrassment to all parties involved.