Review: The Counselor (Chris Bumbray's take)

The Counselor (Chris Bumbray's take)
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Read JimmyO's review here

PLOT: A lawyer (Michael Fassbender) living way beyond his means, gets involved in a drug-deal organized by a shady businessman (Javier Bardem) with a crazed mistress (Cameron Diaz). When the deal goes sour, the lawyer goes on the run in a desperate attempt to square things with the cartel.

REVIEW: One thing about THE COUNSELOR that’s an absolute given- there will not be another movie this year that will be as divisive among critics, or as loathed by general audiences. If co-star Brad Pitt’s own KILLING THEM SOFTLY- which easily packs ten times the entertainment value as this- got the dreaded F-cinemascore, THE COUNSELOR can surely expect the same fate. It rolls towards its inevitable rejection by mainstream audiences in the same manner the protagonists of the film do. They can’t escape what’s coming, and seemingly, neither can the studio and stars behind this.

But, like most films that are wildly rejected by audiences, there’s still a lot to admire about THE COUNSELOR. Based on a script by Cormac McCarthy (author of NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, THE ROAD, BLOOD MERIDIAN and others), director Ridley Scott’s movie is slavishly devoted to McCarthy’s minimalist, un-movie like prose. The first conversation alone, between Fassbender and on-screen love interest Penelope Cruz clues you in to the fact that THE COUNSELOR isn’t going to be anything close to the prototypical girls, guns, and drugs thriller it’s being sold as.

If you’re familiar with McCarthy’s work, you’ll likely be more tolerant of THE COUNSELOR than others. Indeed, there are moments of absolute genius in his dialogue. Scott, who’s often been categorized as a flashy director (this style is part of his appeal) is shockingly reserved in his staging here, possibly to the film’s detriment (one wonders if it would have been more successful if it had been directed by his late brother Tony).

Brad Pit- who’s prominently billed in the credits but only has about fifteen minutes of screen time- shows up now and again as the scheme’s middleman, Westray, a laconic cowboy who more than anyone else, speaks in a indelibly McCarthy-esque way. Pitt, who’s seemingly often drawn to difficult, dark material, delivers a remarkable performance. His first meeting with Fassbender, long before the deal has gone sour, is the highpoint of the film. While he probably has more blood on his hands than most, oddly it’s Pitt who feels the most human, and also the most resigned to the inevitable fate that awaits anyone who tries to get rich by tangling with the drug cartels. When he’s on-screen, THE COUNSELOR comes awfully close to being great.

However, if Pitt’s only in fifteen minutes of a two-hour movie, where does that leave the rest of the film? It’s here that THE COUNSELOR ultimately dooms itself. Any film that has such stylized dialogue needs spot-on casting. With Pitt, Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz (mostly wasted here, but still good) and some of the smaller parts, such as the ones played by Rosie Perez, Edgar Ramirez, John Leguizamo, and especially Bruno Ganz as a diamond merchant, and Ruben Blades as a drug lord, THE COUNSELOR succeeds. Others fall flat.

Many will point to Fassbender as the trouble, but Fassbender is fine. He’s just not playing a prototypical protagonist, in that at his best he’s morally compromised, and impossible to relate to. Right from the start, it’s clear that his ego has led him to believe he’s smarter than he actually is, although clearly he’s a fool. I doubt anyone could have made his character (listed in the credits only as Counselor) palatable to an audience looking for someone to relate too. That said, the film’s biggest problem is without a doubt Cameron Diaz, as Bardem’s femme-fatale lover, Martika. Diaz is not known for her meaty, dramatic parts, and she’s terribly miscast here, in a role that feels like it could have only played by Angelina Jolie. Lumped with an accent that comes and goes, Diaz is nothing short of atrocious, and completely out of her depth. She tries hard, but she’s not convincing as a bad girl. A soon-to-be camp classic scene where she humps a car would have been hard to pull off under the best of circumstances. With Diaz, it’s unfathomably bad. Luckily, Javier Bardem, in perhaps the only role that has some semblance of levity, is almost able to save the scene, and keep the film from going down the drain at the hands of this one ill-conceived set piece.

It’s strange how from scene-to-scene THE COUNSELOR could go back and forth from being absolutely brilliant, and stunningly awful, but somehow that’s exactly what this does. The last half of the movie, where each of the characters has to deal with the fallout of the drug-deal, is more compelling than the first half and features bursts of typically creative Cormac McCarthy-style violence. In the end, it should be commended for being so uncompromising, but again, that will be the very thing that puts people off. Still, THE COUNSELOR is probably the only film in recent memory that manages to simultaneously be one of the best AND worst movies of the season. Suffice to say, when it’s good, it’s great. When it’s bad, it’s terrible. But one thing it’s not is mediocre or boring, which is saying something.

Extra Tidbit: The Counselor has more decapitations than a heavy episode of Game of Thrones.
Source: JoBlo.com



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