Director: Ridley Scott
Remarkably, it’s problem is its script. This is the point I would usually try and describe the film’s plot, but I’m not exactly sure what I watched last night. Michael Fassbender plays a criminal lawyer, known to his crooked clients as ‘The Counselor’, who assists the cartels and drug smugglers in Mexico. He becomes involved in a one-time drug deal arranged by a friend (Pitt), but while discussing the deal with his flamboyant client (Bardem), he is overheard by the villainous Malkina (Diaz) who intercepts the deal and steals the drugs. The cartel responsible for the shipment reacts violently, believing The Counselor to be responsible. Cue all sorts of brutality, blackmail and long-drawn out scenes of double-crossing and mixed motives and fabulous dresses.
The film has real pretentions of grandeur. With its long soliloquising from drug dealers and thugs, McCarthy has clearly watched his Tarantino box-set one too many times; the scenes are LONG, the characters speak a lot but say very little, even though McCarthy is clearly trying to say quite a great deal about the nature of good and evil. Unfortunately the audience already knows that when you make bad choices the ramifications tend to be just as bad too; it’s an obvious subject, but McCarthy hammers it home over and over again, with an unrelenting barrage of misery forced on Fassbender and his poor innocent wife. Speaking of the innocent wife, McCarthy makes such an effort here to humanise The Counsellor; his wife comes across as the most innocent and pure and delightful of women, so when the inevitable shit hits the fan, you just want to hit McCarthy for treating her so badly. The Counsellor is being punished by the writer for his terrible decision, but it’s not his wife’s fault in the slightest; what happens to her is the lowest and most distressing part of the film and it bothers me, fundamentally, that it’s her who suffers for her husband’s misdemeanours.
The cinematography however is something to be lauded. The lush vistas, luxurious houses and glamorous locations contrast perfectly with the dark and grimy underbelly of the drug business, of which we see both sides of the coin. Scott’s direction here is tight too, but it does feel like he may have completely lost control of the project. Yes this was McCarthy’s script, but essentially this is a Ridley Scott film too. Any misfires by the writer should have been ironed over by this experienced and acclaimed director. However, Scott’s track record over the last few years has been patchy at best; yes this is the man who gave us Alien, Blade Runner, Thelma & Louise and Gladiator, but he also recently turned in the questionable Robin Hood, Hannibal, Prometheus and Kingdom Of Heaven. And this might be the biggest bum note of them all. I’m beginning to think the “a Ridley Scott film” tag is beginning to sound like the cursed M. Night Shyamalan brand. I sincerely hope this isn’t the case. And with his upcoming epic Exodus, in direct competition with Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, we can already predict who will be the winner of this Biblical battle of the ‘auteurs’.
The Counselor is a mess of a film. The film has slipped out without the studio even seeming to attempt to play on the names involved, so clearly they feel the same way about it. The world has been immersed in the drugs war of Breaking Bad over the last few months and this seems like a poor and weak companion piece. In the canon of drug/gangster/cartel movies, this would feature near the bottom; it’s a B-movie with a budget. And while I would love Diaz to one day turn in that jaw-dropping dramatic performance, this is not that film. In fact the only jaw-dropping thing about this film is just how badly they all got it wrong. It’s easy to see why The Counselor was made, but it’s remarkable to see how gravely it’s failed.