Movie review: “The Counselor”


The Counselor

dir. Ridley Scott

Release Date: Oct 25, 13

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It’s hard to say whether a movie could ever truly say nothing at all. Even the creative choice to make a film about nothing offers its own unusual performance of an ideal, one where the lack of message is the narrative. And yet, occasionally you encounter a movie like The Counselor, the sort of movie that epitomizes the concept of an object being full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Cormac McCarthy’s screenplay is verbose to the extreme, offering up massive quantities of long, pseudo-philosophical conversations that ramble and stretch in a myriad of directions. But for all that sound and fury, for the lurid eroticism and the periodic bursts of stark violence and the many, many words unfurled by a willing cast, The Counselor says nothing in particular, and accomplishes even less still.

The titular lawyer (Michael Fassbender) is never named, known only as “counselor” to his affiliates. They’re a seedy bunch, all tied to crime (mainly drug smuggling, as far as the film ever bothers to acknowledge) in one fashion or another and all with their vices. There’s Westray (Brad Pitt), a jaded middle man who seems as disinterested in the dramas surrounding him as most audiences probably will be. There’s the eccentric kingpin Reiner (Javier Bardem), who flaunts his lavish lifestyle in order to maintain the interest of his lover Malkina (Cameron Diaz), an overindulgent woman of cold, calculating intelligence. The lone innocent is Laura (Penelope Cruz), the counselor’s fiancée, who has no idea what sort of man she’s involved with, convenient given that nobody else does or really will at any point during The Counselor.

McCarthy would seem to have struck gold with a film offering such a pedigree. From the aforementioned all-star cast to the increasingly scattershot Ridley Scott at the helm, The Counselor carries an air of prestige that it inexplicably squanders on a film helplessly trapped between navel gazing and sporadic bouts of total madness. Nothing that happens in the film’s 117 minutes seems to matter; there aren’t enough points of identification offered to render the film a deconstruction of the border-warfare crime thriller in any meaningful way, nor does the film stop taking itself seriously long enough for it to turn into the exploitation-minded pulp escapade that it occasionally leans into.

Much like Scott’s last film, Prometheus, another oddity more interested in impeccably shot visuals and esotericism than anything resembling a cohesive or watchable film, The Counselor never tries to establish internal logic or stakes or narrative purpose or anything that typically makes a movie, on the most basic levels, worth watching. Characters are gifted with onscreen cunnilingus and strangled with motor-based garrote wires, and there’s much talk of the inevitability of death in the vague, dreamy way that McCarthy normally does so well, and there’s the recurring visual motif of cheetahs throughout, and there are sex shows on car windshields and kidnappings and all other manners of sleazy detritus, but none of it means a damn thing. It’s fine for a film to demand that its audience do some of the legwork in making sense of the whole thing; in fact, it’s often more interesting when a film does. But there has to be some sort of reward somewhere in there, some kind of resonance that makes the film worth having seen. And in the case of The Counselor, there’s nothing but the vacuum of purposefully abstract wanking, splayed out messily for paying customers.