Starring: Michael Fassbender (Shame), Penelope Cruz (Vanilla Sky), Cameron Diaz (The Mask), Javier Bardem (Skyfall), Brad Pitt (Moneyball)
Director: Ridley Scott (Gladiator)
Writer: Cormac McCarthy (No Country for Old Men [novel])
Runtime: 1 hour 57 minutes
Release Date: 25 October (US), 15 November (UK)
Ridley Scott and Cormac McCarthy. Both of them highly respected in their respective arts. One of them has created some of the most memorable films in cinema history (just not recent memory), whilst the other has written books that have enjoyed great success and both novels and film adaptations. The idea of the two of them teaming up seems like a good proposition. But much like the title character of The Counsellor finds out, sometimes plans like this can fall apart and come back to bite you in the arse.
The Counsellor immediately stumbles out of the starting gate due to its script. Most Hollywood films have the problem of being underwritten, but this film is a rare case of a script that is overwritten, at least in the dialogue department. The characters almost constantly talk in odd metaphors and soliloquies, jumping from one random subject to the next and it all ends up just cluttering up the place. Most of it is rambling nonsense that could easily be excised, and the anecdotes that do end up coming back are brought back in so long after that you’ve forgotten by then. It’s all just pretentious blabbering in an attempt to make the film sound more sophisticated than it is. Because if you strip away all the fancy dialogue, The Counsellor’s plot is pretty basic crime thriller stuff. In fact, a lot of elements of the story are eerily similar to plot elements of McCarthy’s most famous work No Country for Old Men. But where that film managed to balance between story and message rather well, this one is just a shambles. The film’s pacing is very sparse, but does pick up considerably during the more intense moments, and it’s these moments where the film shines a bit brighter. There’s some violent and realistic gunplay on display that really crackles, and there’s some gory moments that truly work. But these elements are scarce in a sea of self-important waffle. I get the feeling that everyone involved was too revering of McCarthy’s work to change it or maybe he had a clause in his contract that the script couldn’t be changed. Either way, perhaps if someone had come in and cleaned up the script then perhaps we’d have a better film.
The Counsellor is jam-packed with recognizable actors. Pity that none of them have anything to work with. Every character is so underwritten that everyone has little to no personality, and that reflects badly on the people who have to portray them. Fassbender, one of the best actors working today, does his best with the material but still fails to create any empathy for a character whose background, motivations and even his name remain completely mysterious. Cruz is stuck with nothing to do, and whose only purpose seems to be to give Fassbender’s character something to live for. Bardem spends the whole movie looking like a coked-up Hispanic Goku, whilst Pitt lounges around in a cowboy hat spouting “words of wisdom”. Actors like Dean Norris, Natalie Dormer, Bruno Ganz and Toby Kebbell all turn up for thankless bit parts, presumably there due to the pedigree of Scott and McCarthy. The only one whose performance stands out, even if it’s due to the insanity of it, is Diaz’s. Her character’s extravagant wardrobe and funky hairdo only hint at a truly deranged and ludicrous character, and her presence provides some of the more memorable parts of the movie. Watch out for a scene involving her and a Ferrari; it is truly unbelievable.
Scott has always been a master in the technical department, and his expertise is very clear here as well. The film is beautifully photographed by Dariusz Wolski, which features some great landscape shots and vibrant, dynamic colours. The editing is occasionally odd; there’s one scene where Fassbender and Bardem are talking, and then we cut to them standing in vastly different positions but the flow of conversation remains the same, almost as if they cut out a big chunk of the scene (which, considering the nature of the dialogue, is probably a good thing). The score is good if somewhat out of place; it sounds like it belongs more in a Robert Rodriguez movie more than a Ridley Scott one.
The Counsellor is a mess of a film. Some good moments do shine through, but most of it is just mediocrity hiding behind pretention. I had flashbacks to the similarly plagued Only God Forgives at several points, but at least this film had a cohesive narrative and some semblance of character. This film is further evidence that Scott is not quite the same man he used to be, as he slowly seems to be following in the footsteps of Oliver Stone. But more importantly, this film proves that perhaps McCarthy isn’t as great as everyone initially thought.
FINAL VERDICT: 4.5/10