On the surface, The Counselor has everything going for it: Ridley Scott in the director’s chair; an original screenplay by Pulitzer-prize winning novelist Cormac McCarthy, whose novel “No Country For Old Men” became an Oscar-winning Coen Brothers movie; and a powerhouse cast with Michael Fassbender, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Jarvier Bardem and Brad Pitt. Somehow, though, they forgot about a coherent plot.
The story, such as it is, is set in El Paso, Texas, on the Mexican border, and involves a lawyer played by Fassbender deciding to step over the line and get involved in drug smuggling, with help from a flamboyant club owner (Bardem) and a shadowy moneyman (Pitt). Diaz is Bardem’s girlfriend who keeps a pair of cheetahs as pets (and has cheetah spots tattooed on her body) while Cruz plays Fassbender’s innocent fiancée. The plan goes awry and puts the men on the drug cartel’s hit list.
When I reviewed No Country For Old Men, I pointed out it was 9/10ths of a good movie. The story moved well until the very end, and then it got bogged down and lost focus as things seemed to happen with no rhyme or reason. In The Counselor, that’s where the movie begins.
It doesn’t help that instead of characterization there are clichés. There’s no sympathy garnered for Fassbender; his actions come across as simply stupid and self-delusional. Bardem’s performance seems to be constructed from parts cut out of his Silva character in Skyfall. Diaz’s face is frozen in an expression that was supposed to be smoldering, but instead looks like plastic surgery gone wrong. Pitt tries to be mysterious but ends up annoying. Cruz is the one likeable character, so it’s a given that she suffers for associating with the others.
Several scenes are included for no understandable reason. The most egregious is when Bardem describes to Fassbender how Diaz made love to his car. The visuals of the scene would make an effective commercial for abstinence. When it’s over, Bardem’s character wonders out loud why he told the story, and Fassbender responds with a wish that he hadn’t. Everyone in the audience is thinking the same thing. Overall the pacing is glacial because of constant pauses between lines. Perhaps Scott thought they were meaningful, but more likely he realized without them he’d only have a one-hour movie.
The real crime of this movie is that it steals your ticket money and sentences you to two hours of hard labor.