Film review: The Counselor

Newsroom 25/11/2013 | 09:00

With a Pulitzer-winning screenwriter, an Oscar-nominated director and five great actors – okay, four great actors and Brad Pitt – The Counselor could have been a star-studded, top-quality thriller. Instead, it’s a nasty, twisted freak show, which somehow contrives to be simultaneously confusing and predictable, graphic and boring. The one redeeming feature is Cameron Diaz, who is given a juicy part to get her chops into, even if her most memorable scene involves her having sex with a car. Yep, that’s with, not in.

Diaz plays the amoral Malkina, a narcotics kingpin who has cheetah print tattoos over her back, wears a cheetah print mini-dress and keeps cheetahs as pets. She likes cheetahs. Her partner in crime and car sex is the volatile villain Reiner (Javier Bardem, whose flamboyant turn recalls his recent Bond outing). As their co-conspirator Westray, Brad Pitt dons a Stetson, which is the only apparent difference between his role here and almost every other part he’s played, the wryly amused smart alec.

Sucked into their operation running drugs across the Texas-Mexico border is the unnamed counselor (Michael Fassbender), whom we’re expected to believe is a loving, decent man whose head has been turned by the others’ bling-bling lifestyle. (It’s not exactly clear how he’s involved in the deal, but then a lot of things about this movie are not clear, such as how on earth Oscar winners and other big-name actors were persuaded to appear in it and how acclaimed writer Cormac McCarthy came up with such a mind-numbing script.) The counselor has just got engaged to a sweet law-abiding type called Laura (Penelope Cruz). She’s kind, religious and trusting, so things are probably not going to end very well for her.

Cue all kinds of extreme and tasteless violence, frequent misogyny and weirdly unpleasant and overly intimate sex scenes. While skimping on the actual plot to such an extent that it is not until about two thirds of the way through that it becomes vaguely apparent what’s going on, the movie lingers on tedious soliloquies and the car sex scene, despite the latter being a flashback of no consequence to the narrative. And while bloodshed is to be expected in a film about Mexican drug trafficking, The Counselor seems to revel in the brutal way it dispatches its victims.

However, what is even worse is the screenplay, which is packed with dreary existentialist discourses by drug dealers – not a group known for their eloquence and insight – who bang on and on about death, greed, grief, choice and sundry other Big Themes on which they have nothing of interest to contribute whatsoever.

In the interests of balance, Diaz is great in her role. The cinematography and locations are striking, and there’s an atmosphere of menace. If you consider Texan pool parties attended by tame cheetahs and bikini-clad women mingling with moguls to be stylish, then The Counselor has a certain tawdry style. But the main point of interest is how so much talent could create such an unpleasant end product.


Director: Ridley Scott

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt

On at: CinemaCity Cotroceni, CinemaCitySunPlaza, Glendale Studio, Grand Cinema Digiplex, Hollywood Multiplex, Movieplex, The Light

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