“The Counselor” (2013) is a brutal drama film about the inner demons of man, and the extremes to which he (or any of his cohorts) will journey in search of happiness, even if it’s just superficial happiness. Michael Fassbender plays a man known simply as Counselor. He has the love of a woman, Laura (Penelope Cruz), some money, and even a little power, but it’s not enough. An eccentric friend, Reiner (Javier Bardem), invites Counselor to join him in a drug trafficking venture that is both highly lucrative and extremely dangerous. Reiner connects Counselor to a smooth, fast-talking middle man, Westly (Brad Pitt), who warns Counselor of the dangers involved, and actually recommends him walking away before it’s too late. Reiner’s girlfriend, Malkina (Cameron Diaz), is always around as well, watching from a distance, with her pet cheetahs in tow, waiting to jump at the prey surrounding them. As you can probably guess, things go badly… very badly. The Counselor, and his associates are left scrambling for their lives, against a variety of seedy, underworld characters who seems to have no end to their violent and malevolent ways.
Greed, violence, sex, alcohol, and murder. Those are the five words that best describe this film. More accurately than that, intense greed, extreme violence, unorthodox sex, an abundance of alcohol, and brutal murder. Perhaps these are issues that many people deal with in minor doses, but the characters in this film take it all to the next level. When the end credits roll and you’re left sitting there in the dark, there are many ways you may feel. Dirty comes to mind. Very, very dirty.
This film, directed by the great Ridley Scott, is the first original screenplay from Cormac McCarthy, the Pulitzer Prize winning author of “The Road”, “All the Pretty Horses”, and “No Country for Old Men”. As one might expect, his dialogue is captivating… and wordy. The majority of the scenes are dialogue reliant, and grab your attention through the plethora of words that are thrown at you, quickly. Unfortunately, this well-written dialogue isn’t enough. “The Counselor” is like a puzzle, a giant jigsaw puzzle. Some of the pieces are there, with brilliant acting and an always professional director guiding the way, but there are plenty of pieces missing, and the table isn’t large enough to support it thinly being held together.
With a cast this spectacular the expectations are naturally high, and you won’t be disappointed in this aspect. Michael Fassbender might not be a household name yet, but year after year he keeps proving that he should be- with these deeply emotional and moving performances, even if they come in films that can’t live up to his own work. Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt, and Penelope Cruz (all of whom never share a scene with each other) are really just supporting characters to Counselor, and it works well this way. The largest downside with these legendary actors is that none of them seem to get enough screen time to satisfy. Pitt and Bardem are funny and charismatic, but leave you wanting more, and Cruz makes every scene she is in better, but it just doesn’t amount to very much because her scenes are few and far between. Cameron Diaz does an interesting bit of work here. It’s a different role for her, and one that she seems to embrace with a new impressive maturity. Also adding to the overall ensemble are small but extremely effective roles from Rosie Perez, John Leguizamo, Edgar Martinez, and Ruben Blades, whose one scene will grab your attention and suck you right in.
“The Counselor” could have been a good movie, in fact it could have been great, but it’s not. It’s predictable, unexciting, and seems to be looking to shock more than enlighten or entertain. It’s not that it’s a bad film, more like one that lacks necessity.