Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 4, 2014)
When previews for 2013’s The Counselor appeared, it looked like a “can’t miss” proposition. Legendary director? Check. Noteworthy writer? Check. Cast packed with stars and Oscar winners? Checkety-check-check-check!
Even as “can’t miss” as the film sounded, though, it did miss – and it missed badly. The Counselor received largely negative reviews and despite all its star power, it tanked at the box office. A movie that should’ve been a hit/Oscar-bait/both turned into a flashy bomb.
The movie’s utter failure made me perversely interested to see it – at least on Blu-ray. I’ll be damned if I was going to shell out $10 to be stuck in a multiplex with this alleged stinker!
A high-priced, successful lawyer simply referred to as “The Counselor” (Michael Fassbender) decides to enter into an illicit deal. He partners with a client named Reiner (Javier Bardem) to become involved in drug trade.
This leads to a meeting with Westray (Brad Pitt), an associate of Reiner’s. Eager for the money, the Counselor engages in a plan that leads to an escalating series of dire situations and predicaments.
Or something like that. Counselor delivers such a slow, plodding experience that I can’t guarantee I didn’t nod off once or twice – or 67 times - along the way.
Dear Lord, how did this disaster make it to the screen? “Slow and plodding” is bad enough, but Counselor comes burdened with some of the most pretentious, ponderous dialogue ever sprayed across a cinema wall. I can’t blame all of the movie’s flaws on the lines, but they create an enormous problem – and an insurmountable one, honestly.
Cormac McCarthy earned a Pulitzer as a novelist, and a movie based on his work went onto snare a Best Picture Oscar less than a decade ago. This indicates that a) McCarthy displays serious talent as an author and b) his style can translate well to the movie screen.
What this doesn’t demonstrate is c) McCarthy can write a screenplay. Counselor represents his first-ever big-screen script, and it displays no talent for the format at all. Virtually every problem one could find in a screenplay manifests during this disaster – especially related to that awful, awful dialogue.
I won’t claim that Counselor comes with the worst lines committed to the movie screen, as I know I could find crummier. However, I doubt I could find more flawed material composed by a writer of actual talent.
I knew I was in trouble a few minutes in, as Fassbender finds himself forced to utter “you have the most luscious pussy in all of Christendom”. Seriously? Would anyone ever speak like that? No, and ridiculous comments such as that do the next to impossible: they make a sex scene between Fassbender and Penelope Cruz 100 percent unerotic.
And it gets worse from there. After that we find gems like this exchange between Reiner and his wife Malkina (Cameron Diaz):
“You don’t think that’s a bit cold?”
“I think truth has no temperature.”
Once again I must say: seriously? Does McCarthy have such a poor ear for film dialogue that he thinks lines like that work? Or maybe material that can work as part of a novel doesn’t automatically translate to cinema; I’m not sure the film’s many clunkers would’ve fit a book better, but I’m trying to give McCarthy the benefit of the doubt.
One thing’s for sure: McCarthy has no clue how to pace a film and tell it concisely. Counselor can’t meet a scene that it won’t turn into a dull, pointless philosophical discussion. No one does anything without extended, laborious chats about… God knows what.
That’s because Counselor speaks in nothing but staged, contrived conversations packed with analogies and metaphors. It seems to want every scene to be deep ‘n’ meaningful, whereas none of them reach that status. Instead, they feel phony and clumsy.
And what’s with the consistent use of British terms in a movie that takes place in Mexico and Texas? The Counselor says “haitch” to pronounce the letter “H”, we hear characters use “bloody” and “chaps” in the English way, and we also find “knickers” and “donnybrook” – it probably comes with more terms of this sort, but I couldn’t be bothered to keep track after a while. (Plus, I can’t fully account for those 67 unplanned naps I may have taken along the way.)
Is it unfair for me to almost entirely blame McCarthy’s atrocious script for this film’s failure? Perhaps, but I do feel the screenplay causes the vast majority of the movie’s woes. I can’t overstate how bad and flawed McCarthy’s work is.
This leads to the $64,000 question: with such an awful screenplay, why didn’t the movie’s talented director and actors take pains to “fix it”? I’d guess that no one felt willing to tamper with the work of a notable like McCarthy – in other words, no one wanted to let him know he’d written a stinker, so they remained overly respectful of his text.
That’s the only semi-reasonable explanation I can conjure, as I certainly don’t see any obvious attempts by Scott or the actors to redeem this disaster. Scott seems surprisingly flat and unimaginative in his direction; he brings little to none of his usual flair to the project, as he usually appears content to shoot the action in as basic and rudimentary a manner as possible.
This leads to a relentlessly bland visual product – who thought the creator of Alien and Blade Runner would ever create something so flat and boring? None of the actors seem willing to extend themselves to add spark to the proceedings either; I suspect they exerted all the effort they could just to keep straight faces as they read the terrible dialogue, so that left them without energy to actually act.
For the last nine years, I’ve answered Meet the Fockers if asked to name the movie that wasted the most talent. I may need to amend that response, as The Counselor might deserve this “honor”. No matter who created it, the film winds up as a slow, idiotic dud.