Friday, October 25, 2013

The Counselor

An instant Cormac McCarthy classic lessened by Ridley Scott's wacky directing and Cameron Diaz's terrible acting. Made for fans of Cormac McCarthy's novels who can get past Ridley Scott's meddling.

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

The Counselor

Over the last few years, I’ve become quite the fan of author Cormac McCarthy. After watching the Coen Brothers’ Academy Award-winning adaptation of No Country for Old Men, I raced out to pick up the book. It didn’t stop there. Next, I went on to read his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Road, which was also turned into a fantastic film starring Viggo Mortenson. I followed The Road up with All the Pretty Horses, which was once adapted into a not-so-great film. McCarthy’s writings are full of philosophy and social commentary. Serving as his first original screenplay (it’s not based on a book), The Counselor is no exception. As long as you walk in knowing that director Ridley Scott has sloppily put the film together, you’ll love McCarthy’s latest work.

Michael Fassbender plays the leading catalytic role in The Counselor. His first scene shows his tender and loving side with his girlfriend (Penelope Cruz), but we soon learn that he’s about to dive into criminal enterprise in order to uphold the glitzy lifestyle that he’s promised her. It’s never spelled out, but I got the impression that – despite having made shady friends as a legal counselor – his involvement in illegal ventures is something new. One friend (Brad Pitt) helps him find a financier for the $20 million drug smuggling operation that he’s about to fund, while another friend (Javier Bardem) puts him in touch with the people who make it happen. The plan seems simple enough, but things don’t go as planned and all parties involved have to think outside the box to avoid deadly trouble.

The greatest aspect of the film is the writing. McCarthy’s story is solid, presenting a multifaceted social commentary. His characters spew brilliant bits of dialogue, the best of which are filled with poetic philosophy. Following closely behind the noteworthy writing are fantastic performance by several actors. The main leads – Fassbender, Bardem and Pitt – are excellent. Cruz isn’t a major player, yet she still perfectly serves her purpose. Unfortunately, the only bad casting decision is a tragic one. Cameron Diaz has absolutely no place in The Counselor. Her performance leads me to believe that she was oblivious as to what movie she was starring in. While everyone is knocking it out of the park, Diaz plods around chewing up scenery – but an actress is only as good as her director, and Scott definitely isn’t great here either.

I’ve liked plenty of Ridley Scott’s films, but he has become a hit-and-miss director with more “misses” than “hits” recently. Just as Diaz has no idea what movie she’s appearing in, Scott has no idea that he’s directing a McCarthy screenplay. It’s jumbled and messy. The tone inconsistently shifts, often times following up and undermining great moments of McCarthy dialog.

I believe that The Counselor is going to be one of the biggest “love it or hate it” films of the year. As much as I wanted to love it – because McCarthy’s screenplay deserves that love – I simply can’t rave and gush about it as much because of Diaz and Scott. If you’re able to see past that, then you should enjoy McCarthy’s great screenplay that lies at The Counselor‘s core.

Photo credit: 20th Century Fox

3 1/2 out of 5

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