Wednesday 21 June 2017

Movie Review: The Counselor (2013)

An uneven drug smuggling thriller, The Counselor wastes its premise on pretentious tangential topics.

The Counselor (Michael Fassbender) is deeply in love with his girlfriend Laura (Penélope Cruz) and travels to Amsterdam to buy her an expensive engagement diamond. He is also secretly broke, and turns to his friend Reiner (Javier Bardem) to get involved in a drug deal with potential for a huge return. Reiner's latest girlfriend is the wild vixen Malkina (Cameron Diaz). Reiner connects The Counselor with middleman Westray (Brad Pitt), who arranges the money transfer and sets the deal in motion.

In Mexico the large drug shipment is hidden in a sewage truck and crosses the border into the United States. By coincidence The Counselor's imprisoned client Ruth (Rosie Perez) asks for his help to extricate her son out of an extreme speeding offence. He obliges, unaware that the young man is known as the Green Hornet and is a key part of the drug transfer chain. When the Green Hornet is decapitated and the drug shipment stolen, The Counselor's life unravels as the victimized cartel moves in to seek bloody revenge on all involved.

Directed by Ridley Scott and written by Cormac McCarthy, The Counselor boasts a tremendous cast and lavish production values, but still manages to miss the mark by a wide margin.  This is a talky would-be thriller that invests substantive time in all the wrong areas.

Almost all the problems reside in McCarthy's too clever by half screenplay. The characters enjoy long scenes of dialogue, and McCarthy sees fit to have them converse about philosophy, sexual antics including masturbation with vehicles, the obscure details of diamond quality, and confessions to Catholic priests. Most of these topics have little if anything to do with the plot or the character evolutions. The script expounds on the drug cartel's fondness for a gruesome strangulation assassination device and snuff films. It goes without saying that both items will play a role later in the film, but the telegraphing is hopelessly obvious.

Critical details, such as the cause and extent of The Counselor's money problems, are skipped entirely. Seemingly important characters are dropped late into the film with no explanation. As the world closes in on him The Counselor makes tracks to Mexico, and suddenly he is receiving a lecture on the realities of life and the consequences of decision making from Jefe (Rubén Blades), a high-ranking but previously unannounced cartel member.

Meanwhile Scott directs the few scenes of action with plenty of verve, as the journey of the decrepit sewage truck emerges as the most interesting aspect of the film. But despite the slick delivery, the pawns are on display but the puppet masters remain hidden. The Counselor shows us the dramatic outcomes of some serious scheming, but lazily skips the intellectual effort of having the plotters explain themselves. After all, it is more fun to show a woman gyrating against the windshield of a sportscar than engage in actually relevant discourse.

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