The Counselor

October, 2013, Drama

 

The Counselor

Given its bloodlines, this one should have won the Triple Crown; script by a Pulitzer prize winner, directed by the same man who gave audiences Blade Runner, Thelma & Louise and Alien - - and a stellar cast featuring Michael Fassbender, Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Cameron Diaz & Brad Pitt. What’s stunning therefore, is just how bad The Counselor is and how much of the blame can be laid at the feet of its author.

 Cormac McCarthy’s regarded one of America’s premier men of letters; at age 80, he’s garnered a stunning number of awards and the films that have emerged from his novels (No Country For Old Men, The Road, All The Pretty Horses, among others) went on to be critically acclaimed. Under the talented direction of Ridley Scott, how could such a brilliant cast (which also includes Ruben Blades, Bruno Ganz & Rosie Perez) fail to produce a movie that could so conspicuously fail, both financially and artistically?

 The fault lies, not in the director or his actors, but in the screenwriter. For all the praise lavished on McCarthy’s earlier films, it’s important to note they emerged from books he wrote - - not scripts he authored. Here he ventures into a vastly differently art form – the screenplay—and the results are painful to experience.

 McCarthy’s owns an apocalyptic view of contemporary America, unremittingly bleak in his assessment of his countrymen as individuals and the direction in which we’re collectively headed. There’s a Calvinistic sense of predestination in the author’s work; he often speaks in the fire and brimstone proclamations of an Old Testament prophet. Unfortunately, he uses that device here, putting orations worthy of The Bard of Avon in the mouths of the characters in a story about the depths of moral depravity among competing drug dealers along the US/Mexican border.

 Career drug dealers Pitt & Bardem lure Fassbender, an attorney with financial problems, into a drug deal with Perez, one of his clients. When the transaction gets incoherently hijacked, the three co-conspirators become marked men, which Pitt & Bardem stoically accept as an inevitable risk in the way they make a living. But Fassbender can’t believe his debut in crime merits the kind of retribution described by his friends Ganz & Blades, who deliver soliloquies about the wages of sins that can’t be explicated, nor inevitable deaths that can’t be avoided. The lines McCarthy provides at these pivotal junctures in his script are elegantly fashioned - - but they’re located in what is essentially a melodrama. This juxtaposition of highbrow dialogue with low-life criminality is initially jarring and soon becomes cartoonish as Fassbender seeks to shield the love of his life (Cruz) from the consequences of his actions while Bardem is callously dumped by his paramour (Diaz).

 There’s no tension here; the outcome’s as inevitable as it is predictable, the storyline merely serving as an opportunity for McCarthy to once again opine on the viciousness of mankind and the collective destruction that flows from it. The performances are uniformly mediocre, but given the script, how could they be otherwise? And for inexplicable/irrelevant excess, it’s hard to beat the passionate attention Diaz pays to Bardem’s sports car in a scene as gymnastically impressive as it is erotically asinine.

 While Scott’s among the best-known (and most bankable) directors working in Hollywood today, it’s important to note that his best movies (listed above) were made at the beginning of a prolific career now entering its 4th decade. His output over the past 20 years has been a mixture of costume epics (Gladiator, Robin Hood, Kingdom of Heaven) and crime dramas (Body of Lies, American Gangster) none of which have equaled the quality of his earlier efforts. At age 76, he’s lost none of his visual skills behind the camera – but what he saw in this script will forever remain a mystery as its box-office become a total disaster.

 

The Verdict?  Despite its impressive pedigree, an unqualified mess.         

 

 

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