Film Review: The Counselor

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Plot: When a lawyer (Michael Fassbender) goes in on a drug deal, something goes wrong, putting himself and his new fiancé (Penelope Cruz) at risk with the drug cartel.

I didn’t think Ridley Scott could make a more pretentious movie than Prometheus, but here we are. While I blame most of this film on screenwriter Cormac McCarthy, the movie is an absolute mess, and when you have a mess of this caliber, you have to blame the director. The Counselor is ridiculous, pretentious, laughable, and at times, downright impossible to comprehend. This is just a painful and unpleasant movie to sit through, but don’t worry, because I’m going to break it all down for you, and the best place to start is with the man who wrote this absolute fiasco.

You may know Cormac McCarthy’s name. He’s an author who’s had some of his books adapted for the screen, most notably the Coen Brothers’ No Country For Old Men in 2007. This is his first attempt at screenwriting, and it’s not a good one. Listening to the film’s dialogue is like listening to a Professor of English Literature lecture for five hours. Every scene in this entire movie is listening to two characters yap, yap, yap, yap, yap, yap, yap, yap, yap ABOUT NOTHING! Holy matza, just stop talking! Look, Cormac McCarthy might be writing the next War and Peace, but for film, it doesn’t work. As an audience member, I’m sitting in the theater trying to grasp character and plot, so when you have these dense meaningless debates that are written like they belong in a book, it’s going to ring shallow on a movie screen. Do we really need that philosophical discussion between Michael Fassbender and the random bar tender he meets for all of two seconds? No! It’s great if you want to have one or two of these sequences in a movie, but not every scene, and especially not when you haven’t even gotten to the plot until thirty minutes into the film. There are so many times when important moments are drowned in these long diatribes, that I can’t even decipher what’s going on. So, to summarize – I didn’t like the writing. And if you’re going to be one of these people who say, “Oh, it sounds like you just didn’t get it, man,” then by all means, go check out The Counselor. I dare you.

What’s ironic is that I’m sure Cormac McCarthy is what attracted a lot of these big name actors to the project. What a waste of great talent, which is the real crime of this movie. First of all, you have big names showing up for no reason. Why is John Leguizamo in this movie for one pointless scene? I don’t get it. And it’s nice to see Breaking Bad’s Dean Norris (Hank!) get a movie role, but for barely any dialogue…Why?! The one nice thing I’ll say about The Counselor is Brad Pitt. He plays a likable sensible criminal, and his dialogue was actually understandable. He’s not in many scenes, but whenever he shows up, the movie is at least watchable. Javier Bardem is fine here, but when you have a movie where Bardem is only fine, something’s wrong. The acting that really shocked me though was Michael Fassbender, who to put it lightly, gives a bad performance. We all know this guy is a top notch actor, so obviously it’s not his fault. First of all, the character is only known as The Counselor, no name. Give me a break. This isn’t Drive, alright! You haven’t earned the right to just refer to a character as his occupation, such as in that film. But he’s the protagonist, and everything that happens to him is utterly predictable when the plot is finally presented. It’s a completely pathetic character, and you’re just waiting for the bad stuff to happen already. Fassbender isn’t compelling whatsoever, just completely reprehensible. But as bad as Fassbender is, we have to talk about Cameron Diaz…yikes.

I’ve never been the biggest Cameron Diaz fan, and much prefer her in comedies. Bad Teacher is probably her best performance. Diaz is atrocious in this film, but it’s really hard for me to put the blame on her. The character is written badly, and Ridley Scott directs her badly. This is one of those characters who’s sexed up to the point where she’s a cartoon character, and they make her the ultimate mastermind where she’s twenty steps ahead of everybody, but the character ultimately comes off as obnoxious. You don’t buy her brilliance, and just want her to go away. There’s one Diaz scene in particular that is just totally ridiculous, and without spoiling anything, it involves her character and a car windshield. This scene is entirely pointless, and is just in there purely for shock value.

Speaking of shock scenes, this film desperately tries to have as many as humanly possible. There are moments of excessive violence where it’s just unnecessary. It’s one thing to have violence where it makes sense for the tone or story you’re trying to tell, but here they use cartoonish violence that doesn’t jive with the rest of the movie. It’s just shock violence for the sake of shock violence. They even write a monologue at the beginning of the movie that sets up a decapitation device. There isn’t a logical or clever lead in to this whatsoever, as Bardem’s character just randomly starts talking about it as an excuse to tease it for the end of the film.

The Counselor is simply a mess. The plot is incoherent, the writing is a disaster, and the acting is inconsistent. For as bad as the screenplay is, I can’t let Ridley Scott off the hook. For Prometheus, it was screenwriters Damon Lindelof and Jon Spaihts who ruined it. When are we going to stop letting Ridley Scott off the hook? The guy is a legendary filmmaker. It’s not like if we criticize The Counselor, that Alien, Blade Runner, and Gladiator will evaporate into thin air. He made a bad movie. It happens.

Rating: 3.5 out of 10 (Atrocious)

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow’s fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.