If only 'The Counselor' showed as much narrative flair as Javier Bardem’s wardrobe in it.
Ridley Scott’s latest movie starts off promisingly enough but ultimately becomes a big bore. There are crazy moments here and there — Cameron Diaz’s Malkina makes love to a car on a golf course while Bardem’s Reiner watches goggle-eyed, for instance – but they are too few and far between to rescue 'The Counselor' from the tedium of another drug deal gone horribly awry.
Even Cormac McCarthy’s epigrammatic dialogue loses its charm after a while.
The movie opens with the Counselor (Michael Fassbender) and his beautiful squeeze Laura (Penelope Cruz, never more radiant) rolling around in the sheets and whispering such sweet nothings as, “You’ve ruined me, you know that?” and “I hope so.”
Must-watch scene: Cameron Diaz and Penelope Cruz in the buff, having a back rub
Cut to dramatic music, and we see an outlandish looking Reiner watching his equally flashy lady ride horseback with cheetahs strolling around. They both clearly like to live large: Diaz’s Malkina sports cheetah-spot tattoos and garish two-toned hair to complement Reiner’s Brian Grazer-style ‘do and loud shirts.
For reasons never fully explained, the more outwardly classy Counselor has decided to enter into a drug deal with Reiner and open a club with him as well. The lawyer has no obvious money problems but has a taste for jewels and fine dining. Since he works as a public defender, he apparently has to get the money somewhere.
Various shady characters warn him about the risks involved – Mexican drug lords can be brutal — but the barrister goes ahead with the deal anyway. It doesn’t take long before something goes horribly wrong.
From there, it’s a matter of time before all the dire warnings at the outset of the movie come home to roost. We are treated to wry musings by Brad Pitt’s Westray, a Western-garbed middleman with no illusions about his line of work, jet set travel and dramatic shootouts as assorted criminals try to get their hands on the drug shipment and money.
Lest he forget, the Counselor is repeatedly reminded of his folly in dialogue ripped out of a hard-boiled novel.
“It’s not that you’re going down, Counselor,” one says. “It’s what you’re taking with you.”
“They know you’re stupid,” another says. “They just don’t know how stupid.”
A steady flow of dialogue like that may play well on the page but wears out its welcome here. McCarthy, a well-regarded novelist writing his first original screenplay, could have used an assist from an established screenwriter to make the the dialogue less scripted sounding.
Another reason to watch: Michael Fassbender
McCarthy’s novel 'No Country for Old Men' was turned into a Oscar-winning movie by Ethan and Joel Coen; Bardem also picked up an Academy Award for his memorable turn as taciturn killer Anton Chigurh in that movie.
The Oscar prospects for 'The Counselor' are considerably less bright. But Bardem delivers another enjoyable performance as a showy shady character on the heels of his work in last year’s Bond movie 'Skyfall'. The movie suffers when he’s not around.
Fassbender’s Counselor is nowhere near as dynamic: He makes a bad choice and suffers for it, but it’s hard to feel much sympathy for him. He’s been warned – repeatedly – about the consequences of his behavior.
Scott does deliver some interesting visuals: A decapitated head plops out of helmet here, and fingertips go flying there. And the aforementioned car sex scene is pretty spectacular in a jaw-dropping way. “You see a thing like that, and it changes you,” Reiner tells his partner in crime.
Too bad the same can’t be said of 'The Counselor'. Ultimately, it’s hard to care about the man or the movie.