Thursday, November 7, 2013

Movie with Abe: The Counselor

The Counselor
Directed by Ridley Scott
Released October 25, 2013

It’s usually possible to discern a good deal about a film’s plot from its title. That’s not always the case, but it then becomes the responsibility of the film to explain itself, making clear at least somewhat what it is about. In the case of “The Counselor,” it’s almost as if no description should be required, considering it comes from Oscar-nominated director Ridley Scott, acclaimed author Cormac McCarthy, and stars the likes of Michael Fassbender, Cameron Diaz, Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, and Brad Pitt. It seems that no one felt it necessary to go further than that, and this film is a haphazard mess that doesn’t lead anywhere coherent.

What is clear about “The Counselor,” which stars Fassbender as the unnamed title character, who is a lawyer in El Paso who also dabbles in drug trafficking, is that it exists in a culture of violence and depravity. The Counselor speaks to the eccentric Reiner (Bardem) and the cool Westray (Pitt) and hears from them about the horrific way in which people die when they cross the cartel, alternately as the subjects of snuff films or the unfortunate victims of a terrifying decapitation device. It doesn’t quite matter what any of the characters do, because their grisly fates are pretty much set from the outset of the film.

Screenwriter McCarthy is known for two novels that were recently adapted for the big screen, “No County for Old Men” and “The Road.” Both films present unlikely protagonists who must deal with brutal evil in their midst, and do so subtly and contemplatively, with sparing dialogue and poignant scenery shots. “The Counselor” is the opposite, featuring a deafening amount of dialogue and little else. Its desert visuals are appealing, but there’s so much talking that little is left to the imagination, a fact which is doubly true when the vicious murder tactics described in conversation are demonstrated on screen.

The members of the cast are each usually terrific, and a few of them apply their skills to these overstuffed roles. Pitt certainly knows how to talk, and this role gives him that opportunity, while Cruz is by far the film’s most charming and sympathetic character, the only true innocent in the entire bunch. Diaz and Bardem take an over-the-top approach to their excessively juicy parts, while Fassbender’s lackluster performance pales in comparison to the bravura of his “12 Years a Slave” turn. There is some style reminiscent of Scott here, but, more than anything, it’s a puzzling, unfulfilling attempt at telling a story that might be more enticing if it weren’t so despicable and off-putting.


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