The Counselor falls short in delivering high-pace action film

Acclaimed director creates biggest blemish in careers of many actors, actresses

By Jeffrey Robinowitz

In my days as a film snob, I’ve seen a lot of unknown talent come together in unexpected ways to create a project that is truly remarkable. Then there’s The Counselor, which is the result of a lot of big-name talent coming tougher in many expected ways to create a project that is truly unremarkable. Ridley Scott’s new thriller is far from the worst waste of talent in film history.

One of the best qualities (and certainly the biggest selling point) of the film is the all-star cast: Michael Fassbender, Penélope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Cameron Diaz and Brad Pitt. With such a powerhouse cast, containing two Oscar winners and one nominee (too bad for Brad), one would expect the acting to be phenomenal, and it is. All the actors excel as… themselves. Not a single actor is seriously challenged in his or her role.

Cruz is the Counselor’s beautiful and innocent fiancé, Laura. Cruz is more than capable of delivering sappy lines and lots of crying, but it only feels skin deep as that’s all she ever seems to do.

Bardem, as the nightclub owner/drug lord Reiner, is definitely the most interesting character in the film, but he’s still not a very good character. He’s only interesting because he is eccentric and is placed next to characters that are so dull they make opera look like a Woodstock. He never feels like a real person with real emotions, just a 2D cartoon character who found himself in a 3D world.

Diaz is Reiner’s seductive and mysterious girlfriend Malkina who is so paper thin, she might as well have her intentions written across her forehead.

Finally there’s Pitt as Westray, the drug middleman. Westray is exactly the kind of character Pitt always plays: he’s smart, he’s witty, and he’s always got a plan. And he’s also a womanizer. Yeah, never seen Brad Pitt get the girl before, have we?

The problem with these characters is that no one occupies the screen for a long enough time for the audience to care about them. The film is constantly jumping back and forth and before you get a chance to become acquainted with your current setting, a new one pops up.

Even Fassbender’s performance as the unnamed counselor, who, as the title character and emotional core of the film, is suppose to carry the whole thing, is diminished by his character’s diminished role in the film. However, this might be the film’s one true insight. Although he is the title character and essential to the plot, the Counselor really is nothing more than a pawn that, as a faceless and unknown individual, becomes a scapegoat for greater criminals. He remains nameless throughout the entire film because he’s part of the game, but he’s not a player. Unfortunately, that’s as clever as the film ever gets.

Just like the cast, the name Cormac McCarthy will bring people to the theater — like me — under the false pretense that his association will automatically make this movie great. Boy did I feel stupid after watching this flick.

Other than some occasionally witty lines that miss as often as they hit and a few scenes (in particular one featuring Bardem and Fassbender that, on its own merit, almost validates the film’s very existence), the screenplay feels lazy and injects little interest into the audience. The dialogue in the opening scene is so poorly written, I couldn’t decide if it was meant to be ironically bad or the real scene was just lost in postproduction.

From there, the writing only gets worse, going from confusing and meaningless to over-the-top and blunt.

The preachy moments in the film are insultingly heavy handed. In most cases, the dialogue is either A) forcing random bits of moral philosophy down your throat from characters we don’t know or care about or B) foreshadowing upcoming events about as subtly as a jackhammer. Maybe literally explaining the moral of the story is an attempt to show how direct and uncompromising the world is, but it’s probably just terrible writing. The “foreshadowing” is also completely pointless because this film is mind-numbingly predictable.

The story line is just as bad as the dialogue. It is uneventful, unoriginal, and downright dumb. Who are these people? What’s happening here? Why does this matter? These are just a few of the questions you’ll be asking yourself as you sit in the theater trying to figure out why you didn’t just stay at home and watch TV. I won’t spoil anything, but if you know anything about the work of Cormac McCarthy, you can pretty much guess which characters live and which ones die in the first 10 minutes of the movie.

Besides the solid acting, the production is the only other component of the film that demonstrates high quality. It’s not incredible or anything, it’s just not terrible. It’s unambitious. The cinematography is straightforward; the costume design is bland (“We gave Brad Pitt a cowboy hat, that’ll reel ‘em in!”); the music builds no suspense; and the set decoration ranges from an absurdly fancy house, to the desert, to an absurdly fancy hotel, to the desert, to an absurdly fancy restaurant, all the way back to the desert. It’s safe, simple, and serves the film.

The pacing is excruciating. It takes the film so long to get rolling that, by the time you finally have an idea of what’s going on, you feel like you’ve done enough mental work for a whole film. The time between each set piece is equally unbearable, and these scenes are hardly worth the wait as they are often short and uninteresting because we already know how they have to end.

The mood of the film is also uneven. The one scene I mentioned earlier, while hilarious and certainly the best moment in the whole film, is out of place. After that event, I wanted the film to be funnier and more exciting, but it just kept trying to convince me that it was really serious and dark. It’s like a child dressed up as Batman for Halloween: at first everyone enjoys it because the kid takes himself so seriously that it’s funny; but no ones laughing when he’s crying on the floor screaming “I am the night!”

If the film had been a dark comedy instead of a serious thriller, it might have been easier to accept the clichéd characters, primitive storytelling, and in-your-face lessons as humorously exaggerated. Instead, they’re just sad.

At the end of the day, if you want to see a better film based on the writings of Cormac McCarthy, go see No Country For Old Men. If you want to go see a better thriller directed by Ripley Scott, go see Alien. If you want to go see a good movie, DO NOT go see The Counselor. You walk out no more entertained or intrigued than you walk in, and the only thing you will feel is the emptiness in your wallet where a 10-dollar bill used to be.

First-year Jeffrey Robinowitz is a staff writer. His email is jrobinow@fandm.edu.

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