Movie Review: The Counselor

From legendary director Ridley Scott (Gladiator, Blade Runner) and screenplay by Cormac McCarthy, The Counselor gives off the impression of being a non-stop thriller with calculated and complex characters. At first glance, that's exactly what it is; but as you go further into the film, it quickly becomes a hot mess of dreary dialogue and weak thrills. Counselor tells a decent story of consequence and greed, but falls short on creating complex characters and stringing together a thrilling plot.

A wealthy lawyer (Michael Fassbender) living a good life with a beautiful wife (Penélope Cruz) soon gains the desire to dive into a life of drug trafficking, after much deliberation with his associate, Reiner (Javier Bardem). Later on, after meeting with another business associate, Westray (Brad Pitt), the Counselor (as he is called) eventually becomes way more involved in a drug deal than he should be, after someone is murdered and the ones behind it need to tie up loose ends. Underlining this border drug deal, hides a bigger conspiracy headed by one of the Counselor's most dangerous and unexpected threats.    

From the trailer of the film, The Counselor looked like an intriguing tale of deceit and greed, accompanied by a brilliant cast and moderately good action. However, when I finally saw the film, it consciously lacked action and any real thrill, the first hour or so just setting up (with mass amounts of dreary conversations) for the last 30 or 40 minutes of the Counselor's violent consequences. Most of the film was basically the characters discussing the deal, with tidbits of the actual drug trafficking. And as for the whole drug deal itself, the film never really explains the Counselor's involvement and why he actually was targeted. I think screenwriter Cormac McCarthy believed he was just putting another novel to screen word-for-word, implementing long monologues for the characters to appear like every-day conversation. This was one of the many flaws of the film, the dialogue being both curiously cryptic and overly pointless. Other than that, the film also lacked the immense action and thrill I expected from the trailer.

The cast of the film was nothing extraordinary, but it still showed promise for such a dull plot. Leading the cast was the talented Mr. Fassbender, who has become one of my favorite actors with his stern but calculated way of going into a role. Recently, Fassbender has taken on roles from metal-wielding mutants to savage slave owners, and has done an excellent job at rising up as a prominent film actor. While most of his other roles are quite memorable, his role as the mysterious Counselor doesn't come off that strong as the main character in the film. Fassbender delivers adequately for the most part, but doesn't really give the audience much to favor until he is in too deep, and all is at stake. Other stars of the film, like the maniacal Javier Bardem and the modern cowboy of Brad Pitt, bring somewhat necessary roles to the film, but overall don't really make a huge impact on what the Counselor does in the end. Bardem, who I last saw as the devilish ex-spy-turned-terrorist facing Danial Craig's James Bond in Skyfall, played another odd role as a carefree entrepreneur/drug kingpin who insists the Counselor on getting in on the deal. His role wasn't really the best, but I think it was necessary to the plot and definitely the most colorful character of the film, which helped lighten up the dull story. Brad Pitt played a mysterious modern cowboy of-sorts, basically there to explain the whole drug deal business and be the bearer of bad news for the Counselor in the end. The females of the film, played by Cameron Diaz and Penélope Cruz, brought a toughness to the film I hadn't expected. However, while Cruz was more of a throwaway character, Diaz shined more as the deceitful and meticulous girlfriend of Bardem's Reiner. While her role was odd and misplaced at times, she did play a big role in the film's conclusion, hiding her true intentions until things begin to fall apart. Overall, the cast was probably one of the better things of the film, each character bringing his or her own character to life, with decent performances.

The major themes of the film is one thing that made it stand out among other thriller films today. Themes like greed, death, desire, and the primal instincts of humans defined the film by highlighting one man's desire (for an unknown reason) to get rich quick by getting involved in drug trafficking. This man's ultimate desire leads him down a dangerous path towards death and pain, and the film does a decent job at outlining those consequences. Once the characters in the film hit rock-bottom, their actions are what define them because with one mistake, they could end up in a body bag, with a hole in their head, or even with no head at all. Humankind's great desire for greed and money sometimes leads to unexpected consequences that can alter their lives forever. This film does an excellent job at implementing those themes, with good cryptic dialogue, but still lacks in a truly detailed story with characters you can relate to.

Overall, The Counselor was one of those films you really needed to be investing in to understand it completely. Otherwise, it comes off as a dry thriller with a weak plot that doesn't reveal enough for it to work. The characters may have been interesting enough to win me over, but they also were a bit too dull to keep you invested in their struggles for the whole film.

I gave the film a 6 out of 10 because of its brilliant but flawed cast, its bleak and distant plot, and its valiant effort to bring the audience a methodical thriller with good surrounding themes to flesh out the film's inner beauty.               

Popular Posts