Cormac McCarthy should stick to literature. That’s the feeling after watching his overly wordy, surprisingly thin new film, The Counselor, also directed by Ridley Scott. With a cast of this caliber, and a premise that screams for some social commentary and potentially new insight into the drug cartel and its functions, the story instead revels in derivative developments and profoundly dumbfounding conversations between characters. Most of these characters are enigmas, and a few are interesting, yet McCarthy does not care about digging into these characters, but more of their nature. These are people who want things, a variety of them, apparently, and everyone’s greedy and after their own desires. I can’t fault McCarthy for not providing some wow moments, though, for there are many that almost make the film worth a watch.
The Counselor (Michael Fassbender, and yes, that’s really his name throughout the entire film) is a lawyer who gets caught up in a drug deal gone bad. He’s engaged to Laura (Penelope Cruz), who apparently used to be a good girl before he made her go bad. He’s partnered with Reiner (Javier Bardem), an eccentric fellow who has some eye-candy on his should in Malkina (Cameron Diaz), a conniving woman that’s smarter than anyone Reiner knows. Oh, how he turns out to be so right. Westray (Brad Pitt) is an associate who also comes into play, and he’s a Cowboy-hat wearing fast talker that knows his way around business. These are all decently defined characters, with Malkina and Westray getting the most to work with, but that’s also a testament to both Diaz and Pitt having a blast.
Scott lends nothing behind the camera, and the cinematography is surprisingly mediocre for a film with such a gorgeous visual frame of reference. The deserts of New Mexico, Arizona, and Mexico itself should provide for some lush scenery to photograph, but alas. The movie squanders many of these potentials; outside of a few well-staged violent acts, something that McCarthy clearly writes better than anything else, there’s nothing to work with here as an audience member. It’s as if the film is so self-indulgent that it misses the fact that it isn’t about anything new. These people want…something, with Malkina emerging as a newish take on a femme fatale. And she has a scene with a car that is unsettling and unforgettable. But the movie leaves nothing to consider after, failing to establish its own mood, teetering between black comedy and melodramatic thriller. It’s a poorly structured, overly confident mess.
Grade: ★★½ (out of 5)