When a Grade-A cast, prolific director and one of America’s greatest living writers are teamed together to make a movie, the expectations are already set high. Before production even began, Ridley Scott’s “The Counselor” built up a considerable buzz for its talent both in front and behind the camera. Scott’s been hit-or-miss in the past few years, but this film looked like his comeback. Unfortunately, “The Counselor” epitomizes the director’s aforementioned track record, and only for the much worse in the miss category.
Michael Fassbender plays Counselor (yes, that’s the only name he goes by in the film), a Southwestern lawyer whose greed gets the best of him when he gets involved in a one-time drug trafficking deal. Things soon go wrong and his involvement affects both him and a group of idiosyncratic characters, which includes his naïve fiance (Penelope Cruz), an underground kingpin (Javier Bardem), the kingpin’s girlfriend (Cameron Diaz), and a shady middleman in the deal (Brad Pitt).
In the midst of the many problems that swirl about in this film, I do give credit to most of the ensemble cast giving it their best with the little to no depth their characters have. Even for the five scenes his character appears in, Brad Pitt is the standout with his charismatic middleman character that serves as the voice of reason to Fassbender’s Counselor.
On the other side of the ensemble though, Cameron Diaz delivers a performance that is extremely hard to properly analyze. Her character is clearly a sociopath and completely lacks any type of moral empathy, but is also so bizarre to the point that I began to question what the exact direction she was aiming for with her approach to the role.
The biggest blame for how much of a misfire this film is though, lands on Cormac McCarthy’s script, which is actually his first original one. First I must admit I am a big fan of his novels, “No Country For Old Men” and “The Road.” His writing style is uniquely structured for how deeply simplistic his characters and plots are, in addition to his exploration of the nihilism and greed that can negatively affect the human spirit.
With that now out of the way, McCarthy’s script here almost completely negates the writing style he’s won a lot of acclaim for. The plot becomes unnecessarily convoluted, the characters are incredibly one-dimensional, and the dialogue is overly philosophical for all the wrong reasons. Even his penchant for graphic violence goes past its limit, which amazed me when compared to the descriptions of violence I have read in his novels.
The worst part of all though in McCarthy’s script, is that he tries way too hard to shock audiences with provocative and edgy material. The opening scene of the movie is one of the most particular cases for this flaw, which involves Penelope Cruz and Michael Fassbender’s characters under a bed sheet with each other, and the actions and dialogue that ensue made my eyes roll for how clunky and excessive they were.
Already working with a wildly inconsistent script, Ridley Scott leans on a style-over-substance directing approach rather than fixing the many holes in the plot and characters. From a cinematographic standpoint though, he does establish an engaging visual portrayal of the American Southwest and Mexican border. Outside of that aspect though, Scott brings nothing more to the table that enhances the film in the slightest way.
It’s hard to believe that earlier this year, “The Counselor” was my most anticipated movie of the year, and now it stands as the most disappointing movie I’ve seen in a long time. A misfire in almost every main aspect of filmmaking, this movie could’ve used a counselor of its own to help turn it into what the previews tried to promise it could’ve been.
NOT RECOMMENDED: Both Ridley Scott and Cormac McCarthy need counselors of their own to improve their behind-the-camera jobs for the future.