The Big Screen
1:00 am
Fri November 1, 2013

Movie review: The Counselor

If you happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and witness a train wreck, chances are it was an accident. Hopefully, no one would cause a train to wreck on purpose, causing a big expensive mess. However, if you’re witness to a train wreck of a movie, that has to be the work of lots of people with lots of money at their disposal to execute a misguided vision of what it is they’ve set out to make. Such a cinematic train wreck is The Counselor.

First, there has to be a script. Noted author Cormac McCarthy, whose novel No Country for Old Men was made into a terrific film, decided he should take a shot at screenwriting. Unfortunately, the characters herein talk like they’ve been written for a book, which makes for a lot of stilted, confusing dialogue. But by the time you’ve managed to decipher what he or she actually said it’s on to the next discussion, and more prosaic ramblings.

Then comes the director: Ridley Scott. Scott has a lengthy and respected body of work, which includes such real classics as Alien, Blade Runner, and Thelma and Louise. Why he seemed to embrace this story and its characters and turn out a turgidly paced, sometimes irritating train wreck of a movie, might be worth a movie in itself.

It’s not like Ridley Scott had to settle for a cast culled from various high school productions. He has a great bunch of actors to work with. Michael Fassbender, whose star has been on the ascent ever since Inglourious Basterds, is a low-rent lawyer who enjoys living the high life. He’s madly in love and lust with Penelope Cruz, and wants to give her the moon and the planets. Unfortunately, he doesn’t earn enough to buy all that celestial real estate, so he gets involved with a big-ticket drug deal in order to make a few million for himself. Also involved is sleazy entrepreneur Javier Bardem, whose mistress du jour, played by Cameron Diaz, is a smoldering bi-sexual femme fatale who is not in the least trustworthy. And the middleman in this scenario, between these folks and the “big boys” of the Mexican drug cartel is Brad Pitt, looking scuzzier than ever.

I don’t have to tell you that, given this brief outline of the plot, things don’t go smoothly in this transaction, nor would you want them to or we’d have an even duller movie than what’s here.

Everything about The Counselor is mystifying, from the rambling, often indecipherable dialogue, to a dream cast that’s capable of much better turning in ho-hum if not downright bad performances, to the fact that Fassbinder’s character is not given a name. He’s always referred to as “Counselor.” Bardem is made to resemble a weatherworn Al Pacino with a hairdo that outdoes Christopher Walken on his worst bad-hair day. My guess is that all concerned wanted to make a modern-day Shakespearean style tragedy, but no one paid any attention to how it was all turning out.

I am sure there are those who warmed up to the pretentiousness of The Counselor, but I certainly didn’t. I haven’t seen a film more irritating and at times downright unbearable since The Master. I can only hope it’s a long time before I encounter another.

The R-rated The Counselor is now showing at all the usual sus-plex.

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