“The Counselor” will hold your attention for sure. It’s got great filmmaker Ridley Scott helming, lots of big stars, and a script by Pulitzer Prize winning author Cormac McCarthy. What could be wrong with all that?
Just the minor consideration that your soul will take a beating, and your regard for the capacity of mankind to degenerate to new lows will leave you feeling unhealthy.
“The Counselor” is an entertaining film about Mexican drug cartels, basically, but the moral is about not compromising oneself by taking easy wrongs. They always lead to worse wrongs until eventually your neck is caught in a “bolito.”
A lawyer’s hubris has him thinking he’s smart enough to fiddle around with drug trafficking, only to quickly find himself way, way out of his depth with dangerous men and women who don’t mess around.
The Counselor is also road-trip movie about a illegal drug-containing fuel-truck’s trip from Mexico to Chicago.
Since the truck is almost it’s own criminal character, the road-trip aspect, along with desert landscapes, Brad Pitt, and Ridley Scott, adds up to a sort of a reverse “Thelma and Louise” (Scott and Pitt’s first movie collaboration).
That movie was about criminals road-tripping from Oklahoma to Mexico.
In addition to the character of “The Counselor,” further roles are listed as “The Young Man,” “The Blonde,” The Priest,” “The Diamond Dealer,” which, again, makes it function as sort of parable and cautionary tale.
There’s the counselor’s lovely fiancée played by lovely Penelope Cruz, Brad Pitt as a cheap suit-wearing drug middleman, and Reiner and Malkina, a dangerous power couple.
Javier Bardem’s “Reiner” is an unintentionally hilarious, charismatic drug lord who fears he’s not really smart enough to keep up with his pit viper-like girlfriend and deadly-snake drug business. Bardem’s spiked haircut in “Counselor” is as amusing as the pageboy one he sported in “No Country for Old men” was unnerving.
Bardem performs here, on a radically decadent topic, one of the funniest monologues in recent movie history.
Humorless sociopath Malkina is not really Diaz’s strong suit. She overacts, curls her lip, does the come-hither siren look, but it’s really not her thing. Regardless of the cheetah-pelt tattoo, raccoon mascara, glinting silver fingernails, and gold tooth, she has a difficult time squelching her natural cheeriness.
The most fun thing about the film is that all the criminals, starting with Brad Pitt, are highly articulate philosophers. Poets, even. They all counsel the counselor on the buffoonish mess he’s gotten himself into. They wax extremely (and therefore comically) wise on the topic of karmic retribution.
“There’s only accepting. There’s no choosing.” “Grief is worthless.” “You are the work you have created.”
With the exception of Bardem’s hilarity, Fassbender’s plumbing the depths of great grief, and Pitt and Rubén Blade’s gangster poetics, the word for the film overall is “Meh.”
Another word would be “Gah!” Rated R for “grisly images, graphic violence, strong sexual content, and language,” the violence feels gratuitous.
The beheading theme, while fact, is sensationalized by contrived actions and contraptions. It’s more likely that Mexican drug cartels aren’t this fiendishly exotic and imaginative, but more workaday—instead of a bolito they’d just use a machete and be done with it.
The violence of “12 years A Slave” felt more like a cleansing of truth in a way, whereas The Counselor’s violence left the reviewer feeling slimed.
3.5 stars for strong storytelling; negative 3.5 stars due to sliming content. But one can’t give Brad Pitt and Ridley Scott 0 stars, so let’s say… 2 stars.
Director: Ridley Scott
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Penélope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt.
Running time: 1 hour, 51 minutes
2 stars out of 5