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Movie review: Script leaves ‘The Counselor’ lacking

The Counselor is a good man. He’s well off, he has a beautiful girlfriend, and he makes one very bad decision. He funds a hefty drug deal that goes disastrously wrong, as drug deals are wont to do. The result? The Counselor and his colorful cast of friends find themselves in the crosshairs of the cartel without much hope of escape.

Let’s get the bad news out of the way. “The Counselor” is not a good film, though it does have several great parts.

The fault lies primarily with the script, written by Cormac McCarthy. He’s penned many impressive scenes here, but they can be short on substance and they never tie together into anything that is cohesive or satisfying. “The Counselor” goes so far from Hollywood’s tendency to spoon-feed its audience that it winds up having the opposite problem.

Some of the characters, though far from flat or one-dimensional, are woefully underdeveloped. Michael Fassbender’s Counselor is the main victim. The plot, similarly, is missing a good deal of explanation. The Counselor’s motivation, the catalyst for the whole film, is vaguely described as “money troubles.” What exactly is going on with the drug deal isn’t any clearer. Cameron Diaz’s character is somehow involved, but her motivation and endgame are just as hazy. As the film goes on, any hope of getting answers to what or why slowly fade away.

The rest of the film does a bit better. Director Ridley Scott and Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski bring a stylized beauty and brutality to the screen that is hard not to appreciate. Set and costume design add to the eye candy, especially when we are visiting drug kingpin, Reiner’s home or any number of his entrepreneurial pursuits.

Of course, Scott does more than just paint us a pretty picture. He also gets characteristically great performances from his ensemble cast. Michael Fassbender, Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Cameron Diaz and Brad Pitt all bring an impressive amount of charisma to their characters. Even better, they’re often interacting with each other, which is a joy to watch. They keep you interested in what’s going on, even when you begin to realize that you don’t really care about any of them.

Do you enjoy dialogue? Like, a lot of dialogue? Like, characters philosophizing about the nature of what they’ve gotten themselves wrapped up in and what the seemingly inevitable consequences are? Fair warning: If you don’t, then this is not the movie for you. On a positive note, it is, for the most part, really well done and excellently delivered. Pay attention whenever Bardem’s Reiner or Pitt’s Westray are on screen and you’re bound to hear more than a few quote worthy lines. A highly detailed incident involving Reiner’s car is likely to stick with you for a while. On the unfortunate side, Diaz gets some of the clunkiest monologues in the film. The fact that her character becomes increasingly more important as the story progresses only makes it hurt more.

“The Counselor” is a difficult film to recommend. There is a lot to like, even love, but $10 is too steep a price for a single viewing. It’s absolutely worth studying. Those working in creative fields could pull a lot from what it does right. For that reason, it is definitely worth renting. At least then, you’ll be able to pause, rewind and decipher what is, admittedly, a well-designed mess.

 

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