“The Counselor” Movie Review

     Ridley Scott’s new film “The Counselor” features an A-list cast including Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem, and Penelope Cruz, while being penned by Cormac McCarthy (“No Country for Old Men”) and produced for a Hollywood standard paltry $25 million.  In a sort of vanity project for Scott (“Alien”, “Blade Runner”, “Gladiator”), the film seemed to have all the makings of a hit and quite possibly a genre classic as is sometimes the case when such talents converge both behind and in front of the camera.  While Scott’s film looks good, it’s all fluff and a whole lot of boring and unnecessary conversations between actors who look as though they would rather be doing something else.  While typical film dialogue will let the audience in on the story at some point, the characters in “The Counselor” leave you in the dark the whole time with no payoff at the end.  I watched with a keen eye and can’t honestly tell you what this film was about and that’s not a good sign.  McCarthy’s script lacks anything resembling a cohesive narrative, jumping around between situations that play no part in what I reluctantly refer to as a “story”.  As a result, “The Counselor” may go down as perhaps the most disappointing film of 2013.

     Fassbender’s character, referred to throughout as Counselor, is involved in some extremely vague and remote way with the Mexican Drug Cartel, possibly by way of two even more unintentionally mysterious characters, Reiner (Javier Bardem) and Westray (Brad Pitt).  I say that only out of assumption since the Counselor has a number of conversations with both characters, not about any kind of drug deal, but instead about sex and women.  At one point, a truck possibly carrying drugs is hijacked and changes hands several times between unidentified thugs and all of sudden Reiner and Westray are in some way blaming the Counselor.  I’m not sure why and neither does he, which makes any kind of solution to his predicament quite difficult.

     The Cartel isn’t really portrayed by any one villain so to speak, as all of the major characters seem to only have some distant and unidentifiable connection, but nothing where anything is done face to face.  Various goons, whom we must assume based on the situation are cartel, appear at just the right moment to take someone out in broad daylight.  It’s as if the cartel is some kind of “Big Brother”, always knowing every move their business associates make and appearing out of nowhere when one of them steps out of line.  Late in the film, Ruben Blades appears as a character referred to as Jefe, who pontificates and enlightens us in a phone conversation with the Counselor using a series of quotes and proverbs that I suppose are meant to convey the hopelessness of the situation.  Basically, what’s done is done and we now have to move on.

     What’s never really explained is the exact connection the Counselor has in this deal.  The questions Westray asks that involve the Counselor paying a traffic fine for a kid who has something to do with what’s going on, but whom we really don’t know either, doesn’t hold water as an explanation.  None of the initial scenes with Reiner and the Counselor explain what exactly they are doing together, only faint warnings that ask “Do you really know what you’re getting into?” is all we get.  I wished the Counselor, for the audience’s benefit, would’ve asked for clarification himself.  Instead, all we get are a series of descriptions and flashbacks of Reiner’s female exploits with his current girlfriend, Malkina (Cameron Diaz), who is involved in some sort of double cross, but it’s unknown what side she’s on or who she’s working for or with.  Her role seems limited to slithering about like she’s some sort of vamp looking for prey.  Malkina does everything behind the scenes and there’s never a point where we are let in on what she’s doing.

     I wouldn’t mistake “The Counselor” as something clever where the filmmakers intended on having the story unravel in a way that challenges the audience to depend on their intellectual side.  Rather, “The Counselor” is a colossal misfire during a time of year where film’s of this stature are expected to be mentioned as awards contenders.  It’s difficult to believe the studio or Scott himself thought they really had something here.  People like me look forward to film’s like this simply because of the talent involved, but with that credibility comes expectation and this film fails to deliver.  Believe me when I tell you, few people in this world would have wanted this film to succeed more than I, because of the respect I have for all involved. Characters in movies always make strange and illogical decisions that lead them to serious consequences, but this is a case where if the main character would’ve asked more questions about  whatever deal or investment he was involving himself with, the story may have unfolded with more clarity.  As presented, save for a couple few and far between moments, “The Counselor” trudges itself into a confusing narrative hell.  GRADE: D-