Friday, October 25, 2013

The Counselor

A vague, misguided, misogynistic tale of the woes of the ruthless drug trade; with a whole lot of pseudo-parable speak thrown in for good measure. Made for ridley Scott and Cormac McCarthy zealots.

Rated R for graphic violence, some grisly images, strong sexual content and language.

The Counselor

Nasty people doing nasty things to each other, just about summarizes the experience The Counselor offers its audience. It’s a lurid world of philosophizing criminals who think themselves smarter than they are. It’s a perfect mirror of the movie itself. The Counselor isn’t dull by any means, but it thinks itself far too clever for its own good.

At the head of this putrid bunch of smartly dressed ne’er-do-wells is the Counselor (Michael Fassbender). He’s never actually given a name throughout the film, instead the people he meets along the way simply know him by his occupation: lawyer.

Just as vague as the Counselor’s existence, is the film’s purpose. Here’s this man who drives a Bentley, travels the world to buy expensive diamonds for his would-be fiancée, and has impeccable taste in men’s clothing; and who’s also in dire straits financially. At least I think so. The movie isn’t too straight forward about that aspect of the Counselor’s life. We’re supposed to believe that he’s in so much financial trouble that he’s willing to embark in a drug deal by offering up some of his own cash as capital for the venture. Is he really that desperate? It doesn’t seem so. But, that’s the movie’s calling card. Frustrating vagueness.

His cohorts in crime include a rich, eccentric Mexican club owner named Reiner (Javier Bardem) who has an inexplicable love for cheetahs, and a mysterious middle man known only as Westray (Brad Pitt) who speaks in foreshadowing parables about death, dismemberment, and destruction.  Bardem, per his usual, up and steals the movie right out from under everyone else. Reiner is, by far, the only somewhat interesting character on screen.

The Counselor, is painted as this intelligent lawyer, who has been able to build up quite a life for himself. Yet, when the going gets rough his intellect betrays him. Was it even there in the first place? It’s never quite clear. He’s only as dimwitted as far as the script needs him to be.

Perhaps the most egregious sin of The Counselor is how outright misogynistic it is. Women are either timid lovebunnies whose only purpose is to please men, and act as damsels in distress; or they’re conniving she-monsters hell-bent on burning down the whole world, just because. Of course the former describes the Counselor’s prim and proper fiancée (Penelope Cruz). The latter defines the putrid rottenness of Malkina (Cameron Diaz). Malkina has to be one of the most unbelievable and laughable female villains since Oliver Stone cast Salma Hayek as a ruthless cartel boss in Savages. She snarls her way through weighty lines of parable-like dialogue making each word sound lifeless, void of importance.

The script was written by novelist Cormac McCarthy. The Coen Brothers created a wonderfully deep and thrilling picture from No Country for Old Men.”McCarthy’s script, in the hands of director Ridley Scott, doesn’t even come close to that kind of prestige. What’s worse is that there’s a whole lotta hubris bursting out of the movie’s dialogue as characters discuss humdrum action movie activities – murders, drug lords, best laid plans gone awry – like street poets. Parables and metaphors are the method of choice as criminals wax eloquent about existential crises. Not to mention two moments of the movie’s climax are foreshadowed in such a groan-worthy, blatant way that it’s nigh impossible not to snicker.

It’s expertly filmed, and decently acted. Fassbender does an admirable job with such a paper-thin character. Bardem pulls off the best performance, but that’s pretty easy given the not-so-stiff competition he’s up against. The entire thing is slick and polished, like a lavish GQ photo shoot. And yet, there’s little there. It’s a nihilistic journey into the world of drug cartels with nothing new to say, only a vague way to say it.

2 out of 5

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