Have you ever tuned into a movie halfway through on cable and sat in confusion as previously established characters spoke about plot points and relationships that seemed important by the way they talked, but you had no real way of knowing? Director Ridley Scott has inadvertently boiled down this experience to a full release in The Counselor, a jumble of self important monologues, whiplash inducing transitions, and characters that seem as if they are cameoing from other movies that everyone assumes you’ve already seen. It’s almost worthy of praise how the simple story of a drug deal gone bad has been so mismanaged here, especially considering that the few scenes that do make sense paint an intriguing picture of what this movie could have been in better hands.
In theory, The Counselor is about Michael Fassbender’s character, a lawyer known only as The Counselor. In some movies, a main character without a real name would be indicative of his mysterious nature, but here he is playing straight man to Brad Pitt’s cowboy accountant Westray and Javier Bardem’s freewheeling Reiner. Cameron Diaz plays Malkina, a vixen who is the closest thing the movie has to an antagonist, and Penélope Cruz plays The Counselor’s fiance in peril with nothing much else to do other than fulfill that role. The Counselor contacts Reiner and Westray about joining in on a drug shipment, the deal goes bad, and he must attempt to survive the wrath of the cartel he has wronged.
So in all likelihood, you’ve seen this story before, but I can almost guarantee that you haven’t seen it presented this way. The cartel is a vague threat that is never truly given a face, although you can presume that Cameron Diaz’s character is working for them considering some of the phone calls she makes in the film. However, since several of these phone calls are the type of phone call that the audience only gets to hear one side of, I’m left with only my best guess as to what’s going on. You’ll do a lot of that when thinking about The Counselor. At least you will when you’re not attempting to parse out how exactly characters traveled halfway around the world in an afternoon. Or deciding who the character that just died was exactly, and if he was the same character that you saw in a previous scene or an entirely new character, neither of which had a proper introduction.
Speaking of Diaz, she is the only actor in the production that brings life to her character. Javier Bardem seems to be coasting on his character’s clothing and hairstyle, and Brad Pitt is similarly coasting on a cowboy hat and mullet. Diaz brings an intense persona to her performance, and it comes as no surprise when she starts getting into bad dealings herself. The scenes she controls are certainly the most memorable, including an interesting chat with a priest in confessional and a scene with Penélope Cruz that seems to exist to get them wearing nothing but towels. In fact, it’s almost a guarantee that one of her scenes will be the one that saves this movie from the dustbin of history, an insane sex act involving a car that, much like everything else in this film, comes and goes without warning or explanation.
I spoken mostly of the plot so far, but sometimes a thriller like this can be saved by action scenes. The Counselor is not one of those times. It presents a few tiny pieces of gunplay and an incident involving a wire and a biker that has been heavily foreshadowed in the advertising. The movie seems to think that these scenes are more important or shocking than they actually are, but anyone who plays video games even occasionally will have seen things much more visceral in their own living rooms. Worse still, most the action is performed by tertiary characters with loose ties at best to the already jumbled narrative, so it’s even harder to care what’s going on there.
So, to summarize, The Counselor is a simple tale of the drug trade told extremely poorly, with only one interesting character, standard action scenes, a bizarre sex clip custom built for YouTube, and pacing and editing that a chimpanzee would approve of. It’s one of the first times I’ve ever sat in a movie theater and felt genuine surprise when the credits rolled, as the plot was so incoherent that it could have gone on for another hour in much the same way that it had been going. For fans of MST3K and the like, this movie may prove to be a hidden gem. For the rest of the world, it’s simply a mess.
In Theaters: October 25, 2013
Runtime: 117 min
Rating: Rated R for graphic violence, some grisly images, strong sexual content and language
Director: Ridley Scott
Cast: Cameron Diaz, Brad Pitt, Javier Bardem, Michael Fassbender, Penélope Cruz
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Official Site: http://www.thecounselormovie.com