Review: The Counselor
PLOT: Michael Fassbender stars as THE COUNSELOR. This nameless Armani wearing attorney is looking to make a perfect life for him and his fiancé. Letting greed get the best of him, he finds himself mixed up with some shady people involved in drug trafficking and murder. The Counselor soon comes to the ugly realization that he may be digging a hole he might not be able to crawl out of.
THE COUNSELOR seemed to be a perfect mix of edgy thriller and modern day crime fiction. Aside from one miscast villainess, the actors were inspired choices and the script by the very talented Cormac McCarthy appeared to be in good hands with director Ridley Scott. Yet the finished project is a long, tedious affair that is as cold and emotionless as Cameron Diaz’ “Malkina” appears to be. The story of bad people doing bad things to one another is a lackluster attempt at a suspenseful thriller. With long stretches of dialogue where the only thing building is the score by Daniel Pemberton, THE COUNSELOR attempts to be too many things at once.
As far as screenplays go, I’ve heard a number of people say that the script itself is a maddeningly terrific work. The many characters revolving around a twisted world of drug trafficking and sex could have been an exceptional premise. Personally I haven’t read the screenplay, but I’d like to see what if anything was lost in translation. Michael Fassbender is an exciting choice to play the nameless “Counselor,” a good man making bad decisions. The actor exudes vulnerability and charm yet is perfectly fine disappearing into a dark and seedy world. His almost too perfect relationship with his girlfriend Laura (the stunning Penelope Cruz) feels slightly out of place yet that could have been a clever direction. You know the romance they share is in for a few bumps and bruises to say the least.
One missed opportunity however was to place Cameron Diaz as the venomous Malkina. With her strangely unnerving dialect and delivery, she fails to inject any sort of fearsomeness into this heartless woman. As a character that is constantly “famished” or “starving” while still feeding on the weakness of others – this particular metaphor is terribly obvious – her performance is bland and lifeless. You never really believe that she is coming from an authentic place. Malkina is by far the most fascinating character here yet Diaz just doesn’t seem the right fit. To say that her work here is uneven is an understatement, although there are elements that she handles rather well. The infamous car f*cking scene is one of the strangest things I’ve witnessed this year and she has fun with the ridiculousness of it.
Ridley Scott handles the material in his usual style and at times he achieves certain beauty in this dangerous world. Along with cinematographer Dariusz Wolski, he paints a sometimes striking canvas. Strangely though, the film meanders from one scene to the next with a less than thrilling pace so its beauty wears thin along the way. Even some of the more intense sequences – of which there are few – feel uninspired without any real suspense. Yet every so often there is a moment that works, including one near the end of the film involving one of the film’s stars. This bit of creepiness is blatantly foreshadowed early on yet it still packs a wicked punch. If only THE COUNSELOR was able to build on this energy it would have been a far more thrilling ride.
The script itself contains a handful of provocative moments that sometimes work and other times do not. The previously mentioned “car f*ck scene” is a fascinating idea and Diaz (and body double) commit to it. Even still, this dream life fantasy exists in a strange and misplaced sort of fashion – similar to an odd flashback on “Family Guy.” It is indeed just another randomly placed moment. The dialogue heavy screenplay is not necessarily the problem. With both THE ROAD as well as NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, there was a slow build that had real impact on the viewer. There is very little of that here. With an impressive cast including Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt, Rosie Perez and Bruno Ganz, this should have made for one hell of a deep and dark thriller, one which delves into the darkness and greed of man.
This is simply a slow build without real momentum or any connection to the players involved. As a fan of Mr. Scott as well as McCarthy, it is hard to see THE COUNSELOR as anything more than a collection of too many good ideas that don’t quite connect. Even if the film failed to win me over, this all-star thriller is not a total misfire, if only it were firing more than just impressive looking blanks.