Ah, The Counselor. This film for me is essentially what Deadly Friend is for John Tyler: I don't think the movie is all that great, yet at the same time I am oddly obsessed with it. Something about the film really repels me, and yet something else about the film really draws me in. It's the definition of hit-and-miss: several scenes in the movie are absolute dreck and are impossible to sit through, yet other parts of the movie are just awesome. Let's take a look at the pros and cons of the strange, puzzling, and decent film that is The Counselor.
The biggest issue with this film is the pacing. This film has got to be one of the most inanely paced movies I've seen in a long time. There are so many scenes of dialogue that are completely unnecessary to the entire film. There is a borderline-disturbing scene of cunnilingus between Michael Fassbender and Penelope Cruz at the beginning of the film. Necessary scene? NOPE. Then there is a 7-minute scene in which Fassbender is buying a diamond for Cruz. Necessary scene? NOPE. There is a 3-minute scene in which a biker is telling a random woman about how he likes to eat dog food. Necessary scene? NOPE. There is a 5-minute scene in which Javier Bardem talks to Fassbender about how Cameron Diaz had sex with his car. Necessary scene? NOPE. NOPE. NOPE. NOPE. NOPE.
The thing to blame here is the film's screenplay. This is the first time legendary author Cormac McCarthy has ever written an original screenplay, and boy, does it show. Now, the dialogue itself isn't actually that bad; in fact, it possesses a strange wit that is not normally seen in films these days. However, it all feels far too overdone and novel-like. Every time a character speaks, it is in long paragraphs that feel like they are taken directly from a book. I'm a big reader myself (although I shamefully admit to having not read any Cormac McCarthy books), and most film adaptations of books I have read have done decent jobs at translating the book dialogue to film-suitable dialogue. But The Counselor feels like one of those films that is adapted shot-for-shot from a book, dialogue unchanged. Of course, this film isn't based off of a book, but that's the vibe it seems to give. As a book (or, even better, as a play), I think this would have worked out very well, but as it is, it doesn't work very well. Still, McCarthy's typical flair for dark atmospherics is present here: he consistently keeps a foreboding sense of fear and dread in his writing, creating an appropriately bleak atmosphere. And he does a pretty decent job of creating interesting characters, even if a lot of their motivations didn't make any sense in the movie (why does such a highly respected lawyer need to get into a drug deal in the first place? Doesn't he make enough money already? And why did Cameron Diaz become a complete bad guy throughout the entire second half of the movie? Why did she need to kill a bunch of the characters at the end? It didn't make very much sense).
The acting, however, is quite good. Michael Fassbender has typically been known to play over-the-top characters (Prometheus, 12 Years a Slave), but his character in this film is very grounded in reality, and he does a great job performing it (I also thought it was very creative on McCarthy's part to leave the character unnamed in the film). I'm not normally the biggest fan of Cameron Diaz, but she brings a really nice dark edge to her character Malkina, even if her Spanish accent was a bit wobbly at times. Javier Bardem is as smooth and charismatic as ever as Reiner, a character I think Tommy Wiseau could play pretty well. But the best is probably Brad Pitt, who is predictably fantastic as the dark and shady Westray, and the scenes of dialogue between him and Fassbender (whom he previously starred with in 12 Years a Slave) are some of the film's best moments. Penelope Cruz didn't really have anything to do in the film, but for what she was given, she was alright. Also, Bruno Ganz and Rosie Perez are pretty good in their supporting roles, and there are effective cameos by Goran Visnjic and John Leguizamo (both of whom played characters in Ice Age; not that anyone gives a fuck).
But what is undoubtedly the best thing about this movie is the direction by Ridley Scott. He is undoubtedly my all-time favorite director, and he has never made a bad film in my opinion. He has such an incredibly wide range of film genres, from comedy (Matchstick Men, Thelma & Louise, A Good Year) to sci-fi (Alien, Blade Runner, Prometheus) to period piece (1492: Conquest of Paradise, Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven, Robin Hood) to action thriller (Black Hawk Down, American Gangster, Body of Lies, and now this), and for such a messily written film, he directs The Counselor with remarkable finesse. In even the dullest of scenes, he manages to infuse a nice tone and look to the setting, and his camera lighting and cinematography are brilliant, with nice emphasis on tasteful color and decor. The scenes of violence are also brilliant too, particularly the highway shootout scene. But one of the biggest things I love about this movie is (SPOILER ALERT!!!!!!!!!) Brad Pitt's death scene. Remember how I said earlier in this review that this film for me is what Deadly Friend is for John Tyler? Well, you know how he can't stop yammering his ass off about that basketball decapitation scene? Well, coincidentally, The Counselor also has a decapitation scene, and it is sheer brilliance. It's filmed slowly and intensely, and it ends in the bloodiest way possible, complete with severed fingers. It's just awesome. But I digress.
Score for The Counselor? I'll have to go with a 6.5/10. It's a hard film to properly rate, because it's so unbelievably hit-and-miss. There are some scenes that are extremely gripping and entertaining, and others that are throat-clutchingly tedious and boring. It's superbly acted and directed, and it has a good atmosphere to it, but it's just too clunky, messy, and poorly paced to be a fully recommendable movie. For all its ups and downs, I'd say it's a film worth watching, and fans of Cormac McCarthy's work will probably love it, but as a casual suspense thriller, it could have been light-years better. It's got some good brains, just not enough to work up to the expectations raised by the impressive credentials working on it.
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