The Counselor talent heavy, light in execution and impact

by Mark Burger

Given the talent involved, it’s both surprising and depressing that The Counselor fails so completely. It takes some doing — or, perhaps, some undoing — to make a film as unappealing as this.

The pedigree is impeccable: An original script by Cormac McCarthy, directed by Ridley Scott with a super-hot cast including Michael Fassbender (in the title role), Brad Pitt, Cameron Diaz and the Oscar-winning real-life couple of Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz. (Just to be on the safe side, McCarthy also earns an executive-producer and Scott a producer credit.)

The result is a self-indulgent shambles about a deal gone wrong, an irony that won’t be lost on anyone who sits through the film. In the storyline, it’s a drug deal gone wrong. On the screen, it’s a movie gone wrong. The deck is stacked, but it’s a bad hand all the same.

The action bounces from Mexico to Amsterdam to Chicago to London (and points in-between), complicated by requisite double-crosses and even a beheading or two. The characters all have a lot to say, but not much of it is very interesting. Scott’s technical wizardry occasionally flashes, but more often than not, The Counselor fizzles.

Fassbender’s is a colorless, even passive, pivotal character, and onscreen love interest Cruz has no reason to be here except to eventually and predictably be kidnapped. Their initial bedroom encounter is one of the least erotic scenes of its kind in recent memory — a harbinger of (bad) things to come —and little effort has been made to conceal Cruz’s real-life pregnancy in later scenes.

Bardem’s attire and hairstyle speak louder than words, and indeed his character — Fassbender’s flaky partner-in-crime — falls as much victim to loquaciousness as self-delusion. At least he and Diaz, the film’s resident femme fatale, have a reason to be here. Not so much the ubiquitous and fashionably grubby Pitt, who expounds upon his philosophies in a handful of scenes before losing everything (digits, dollars, life, self-respect) in his CGI-bloody fade-out.

There are also one-scene cameos by Bruno Ganz, Ruben Blades, Goran Visnjic and an unbilled John Leguizamo — onescene cameos that could easily have been excised with no consequence to the plot. Then again, maybe The Counselor is trying to say something. If that’s the case, it says it —again and again. What’s being said, or explained, or alluded to, is anybody’s guess. There’s no emotional involvement, nor even an enticement in that direction. The Counselor just is — and it isn’t good.

Two cheetahs also appear in the film and manage to emerge unscathed. The same may not be said of those who made the film. There’s a quote attributed to Alfred Hitchcock in which he said the three most important things in any film are the script, the script and the script.

Oh, how right he was. Case closed, Counselor.

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