Plain, Simple Tom reviews . . . “The Counselor” (2013)

A Ridley Scott directed thriller, written by Cormac McCarthy and with a cast including Michael Fassbender, Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz – sounds pretty good on paper, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, this particular film heroically fails to live up to expectations.

The Counselor is all about the shady criminal lawyer played by Fassbender, always referred to as “Counselor” conveniently enough, as he finds himself in over his head as he unwisely gets involved with a high stakes drug deal involving the Mexican Cartel. Javier Bardem is his business partner and Cameron Diaz is Bardem’s “moll”, subtly pulling the strings unbeknownst to everyone else.

The main problem with this film is the writing; the narrative meanders along, hopping back and forth all over the place, constantly messy and uneven. The dialogue is never quite right; it is easy to imagine all of the lines appearing in a novel, of which Cormac McCarthy is clearly well-suited, but on screen it doesn’t quite translate. It’s that notion of dialogue looking good on a page, but when spoken by actors it is clearly not right and needs a proper screenwriter to adapt it. The story itself is pretty generic and boring; you’ve got your standard drug deals, car chases, shootings and I’m pretty sure that even a 10 year-old could think up this story in the schoolyard (though, given the adult nature of it all, they probably shouldn’t!)

A lot of dialogue mainly involves characters speaking in overblown, phony philosophical speeches that go absolutely nowhere and while listening, I was essentially subdued into a near comatose state, occasionally snapping out of it to wonder “Oh I’m sorry, were you saying something?”

As for the performances, everybody certainly gives it their best but it is clearly an uphill battle for them as they try to inject as much energy as they can into a bog-standard story; Penélope Cruz is entirely wasted in the basic role of “the wife”, Michael Fassbender’s eponymous Counselor has no discernible character at all, Brad Pitt’s just there to look cool, while Javier Bardem is a good sport throughout, letting himself be dressed in garish clothing and terrible hair before collecting the cheque then dying. Even the beauuuutiful Natalie Dormer, who I was waiting for for the entirety of the film, having seen her name in the opening credits, eventually shows up at the end in a pretty thankless role, wasting her completely.

And then there’s Cameron Diaz having to go through THAT scene; if you don’t know, it involves her character . . . putting a certain (COUGH) part of her body on a car windshield. It’s all a bit confusing as to what reaction its meant to provoke – is it meant to be funny? Sexy? Dramatic? Well for me, I found it ridiculously funny, getting the biggest emotional reaction of the entire movie, though that’s probably not what Scott was going for. Just like the “hat scene” from A Million Ways to Die in the West, this is the point of no return; afterwards, you’re either with the film or you’re not. I was not.

This film is reminiscent of Killing Them Softly, another Brad Pitt film, since that too wastes a great cast on a boring story with pointless dialogue.

A thriller with no thrills, The Counselor is generic and dull with an uneven, meandering story and uninteresting characters. Ridley Scott, Cormac McCarthy and a great cast – what could go wrong? Turns out – a lot.

★ ★

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