Being able to identify the genre of a film is a lot like eating comfort food—it allows us a chance to find what fits our mood and know what we’re getting into before we sit down for a couple of hours with our buttery box of popcorn and sweets. When it’s not clear what you’re about to get, sometimes it can be uncomfortable and other times it can be plain dreary, especially when the film itself doesn’t even really know for sure. Is it a crime drama? A drug smuggling thriller? A snooze fest? Herein lies the main problem with Ridley Scott’s new film, The Counselor, which never answers that question with much authority, wanting to be all of those things (well, maybe not a snooze fest, but I digress) without a clear purpose.
The gist of the film (as far as I could make out) surrounds the exploits of the Counselor (no other name is given), a defense attorney played by Michael Fassbender who, for some reason that’s never really explained, takes a deal with Reiner (Javier Bardem) and Westray (Brad Pitt) to help smuggle some huge amounts of drugs into America from Mexico. When the drugs are stolen—not once but twice (which may be part of the overall plan?)—each of their lives begin to unravel. Or something like that. I think. The film spent so much time rambling on about a lot of different things that made no sense in their philosophical incoherence that I can’t be completely sure.
Confusion abounds throughout most of the film, not necessarily because of the plot itself, but because it’s hard to understand who was aligned with who and how the “villains” knew where certain people were at any given time. The screenwriter, Cormac McCarthy, is world-renowned for his novels (including The Road, All the Pretty Horses and No Country For Old Men, all of which are very existential in the way they describe the worlds and characters he creates), but in his first attempt at a screenplay, he just can’t seem to find his voice, probably because the screenplay format is much different than a novel’s construction.
The ability to speak and convey the inner voice of a character through dialogue rather than description may have been too much for McCarthy. Relationships and plot relevance were all but squirrely and every scene seemed to go on for two minutes too long. For example, when Bardem’s character starts telling the Counselor about the time Cameran Diaz’s Malkina had sex with his car, you have to wonder why it was even necessary, except maybe to show that Malkina was a little cracked. There’s even a couple of pet cheetah’s thrown in for what are probably supposed to represent the freedom of an animal nature, but in the end just seem oddly out of place. Because of things like this, no manner of direction or performance could salvage the disjointed nature of the script as it was written.
And for the most part, the performances were right where they needed to be. Fassbender conveys the perfect balance of emotions as he gets himself in far deeper than he was planning, though his ultimate breakdown toward the end of the film that should have been dramatic and heartbreaking simply ends up emotionally disconnected, as the character development between him and the victim was extremely flat. As Bardem does his usual fun, chaotic schtick, Brad Pitt remains Brad Pitt (which here, isn’t a bad thing). There are a couple of odd cameos by John Leguizamo and Dean Norris as part of the Mexican Cartel (I think), and Rosie Perez as one of the Counselor’s clients who’s currently rotting in prison—and who actually ends up being the catalyst for the team losing control—but even they give just enough juice to be entertaining.
It’s in casting Cameron Diaz where Ridley Scott falters. From what I’ve seen of her past performances, whenever Diaz tries to be anything but cute and fun, she overcompensates and comes off desperate and annoying. That didn’t change here as she tries way too hard to be sexy and menacing. It just doesn’t fit.
There really isn’t much else to say. With such great talent attached to this project, it’s really a disappointment to see it done without so much of an ounce of intrigue that could hold my interest. Maybe if it knew what it actually wanted to be, it might have found it’s voice; and in turn conveyed its passion.
My Grade: C-
Next week, new movies include Last Vegas, Free Birds and Ender’s Game. If you would like to see a review of one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.