THE COUNSELLOR

Director: Ridley Scott
Writer: Cormac MaCarthy
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Cameron Diaz, Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Natalie Dormer, Dean Norris, Goran Visnjic, Bruno Gantz
Running time: 119 minutes
Certification: 18

After deciding to go through with a bad drug deal, a loved-up lawyer (Fassbender) finds himself, his fiance (Cruz) and his two associates (Pitt & Bardem) at the mercy of the Mexican cartel seeking revenge.

Contrary to popular opinion, and the despite the undeniable flaws, I’m one of those who actually quite enjoyed Prometheus.  While there’s certainly far less publicity behind Scott’s latest outing (you know, given the fact that it’s not a prequel to one of the greatest sci-fi movies ever made), his name alone is enough to provide copious levels of anticipation, but equally the potential for copious levels of disappointment – and disappoint, The Counsellor, does.  Yet it really feels more like MaCarthy’s film than Scott’s – it’s the author’s first foray into scriptwriting, after all – and just as the main problems with Prometheus were found in the script, so is the case with The Counsellor.  

Author of such novels as No Country For Old Men, All The Pretty Horses and the masterful The Road, Cormac MaCarthy is, generally speaking, a wonderful writer.  His poetic descriptive style and intricate storytelling full of ambiguity and hanging metaphors lends itself perfectly to the rural, quasi-western tales he so often tells, with the only drawback being is his often jarring dialogue, which, while understated and sometimes poetic, generally doesn’t do much to drive the story forward.  Considering a screenplay is heavily dialogue-driven, this doesn’t bode well.

MaCarthy does bring his usual confident and reflective touch to his first screenplay, but because he just doesn’t have the freedom to fill in the gaps himself, to get completely lost in the world he’s creating, the enigma of his prose fails to translate smoothly to the screen.  Maybe this reviewer is just too stupid to get it, but so much of the exposition seems unnecessarily cryptic.  There’s no ostensible set-up, nobody ever just says what’s going on.  Information doesn’t need to be patronizingly doled out, but sometimes it’s fine to just tell the audience something instead of dancing around the issue with anecdotes and analogies.  It grows exhausting.

Because of this, it’s hard to feel moved by the characters or the actions they face.  Take the eponymous Counsellor.  Clearly we’re supposed to feel something for him as he drifts through his arc, but instead of being along there with him we’re constantly left behind to pick up the pieces, so when the inevitable climax comes we’re left wondering why we should care.  Sure he looks sad or angry or worried, because Fassbender’s a brilliant actor, but there isn’t enough to convince us to really feel for the character – and the same can be said for everyone else.

However, speaking of Fassbender and how great he is, The Counsellor does have a stellar cast all of whom are on top, top form.  Javier Bardem, first coming into prominence a magnetic turn as the villain in The Coens’ No Country For Old Men, is effortless and compelling, even if every word he says is incomprehensible nonsense.  Brad Pitt, still sporting the long hair, captivates while on-screen, and Cameron Diaz also really shines in a role that requires her to impersonate a sucker fish (but I really can’t say more than that…).  The film does looks great, too, with moody lighting finding the gritty tone of the story, and the soundtrack and pacing are pretty much spot on.  It’s all nice to look at and listen to because there are skilled professionals working behind the scenes… it’s just that they don’t make for a compelling piece of drama.  Or even just a piece of drama.  When it comes down to it, we have no idea what’s going on..  When the audience is still asking why the main character is doing what he’s doing in the climactic scene, no amount of nice visuals is going to save it.

A skilled writer, an accomplished director, a first-rate cast on first-rate form.  The individual elements are there, so why isn’t The Counsellor so much better than it is?  Scott’s doing solid work behind camera but his stamp isn’t there.  The performances are great but the characters are uninteresting.  MaCarthy’s bringing elements of what makes him such a great writer but seems to be forgetting what medium he’s working in.  There may be something in here, but it’s hidden very, very well.  What a shame.

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