A lot of ill-advised choices: “The Counselor”

December 8, 2013


The Counselor has earned a level of infamy for one particular scene—the one in which Cameron Diaz does the splits on Javier Bardem’s Ferrari and rubs her cooch against the windshield—and that’s really too bad, because, that scene aside, the movie is actually pretty dull. Yet still, there is that scene, and I guess it tells us something about the film. An award-winning novelist wrote a scene in which a woman has sex with a car (“sure, that happens,” he obviously thought), an Academy Award-nominated director filmed a woman having sex with a car (“yeah, I can shoot that,” he obviously thought), and one of the most famous actresses working agreed to simulate (I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt) having sex with a car (“yeah, that’ll bolster my career,” she obviously thought). This particular scene tells us a lot about The Counselor: namely, that this movie exists because very talented people can have very bad judgment.

The Counselor comes to us courtesy of novelist Cormac McCarthy, who has decided to try his hand at screenwriting after the success of the Coen brothers’ adaptation of his novel No Country for Old Men. Directing the movie is Ridley Scott, who, having earned the ire of sci-fi fans the world over with the 120-minute WTF? that was Prometheus has now retreated solidly to Earth with a modern-day noir-cum-drug-tale. It’s a project which should play to the strengths of both men, which makes it even more mysterious why the film is so listless.

The titular counselor (the only name he’s given in the film) is played by Michael Fassbender. He is a wealthy attorney who, as the film begins, has decided upon two courses of action: 1) to marry his angelic girlfriend, Laura (Penelope Cruz), and 2) to buy into a drug deal with an urban cowboy named Westray (Brad Pitt).

"Don't mind me, I'm lobbying for the lead in that big-screen 'Matt Houston' treatment."

“Don’t mind me, I’m lobbying for the lead in that big-screen ‘Matt Houston’ treatment.”

Also involved in this business (though damned if I can figure out how) is a wealthy drug…guy (dealer? Smuggler? I’ve no freakin’ clue) named Reiner, who is played by Javier Bardem sporting a hairstyle and wardrobe so flamboyant that his character from Skyfall would tell him to tone it down a bit. Reiner has a girlfriend named Malkina (Diaz), who keeps pet leopards and occasionally feeds them rabbits for fun.

Well, naturally the drug deal goes bad, because well, why wouldn’t it? Has a drug deal ever been successful in a movie? If it’s not being hijacked, one of the guys involved turns out to be Don Johnson. This causes the counselor’s world to fall apart as the cartel holds him responsible. Wanna bet who makes it out alive by the end of the movie? It’s not hard.

A multi-million dollar deal with this guy...what could wrong with that?

A multi-million dollar deal with this guy…what could wrong with that?

Yeah, and that’s basically the movie. A lot of the things happen, but the leads don’t actually do anything. The drug shipment is hijacked by some dudes we don’t know. They’re ambushed by cartel members we don’t know. In the meantime, Bardem, Pitt, Diaz and Cruz just talk to one another. Seriously, the titular character of this movie does absolutely nothing but sit in rooms and have conversations. Sometimes he sits in cars and has conversations. That’s a pretty big development in this movie’s world.

McCarthy seems to want to follow up on the themes of No Country with civilized men facing the brute atavism of the Mexican drug cartels, but while that movie made its point using Bardem as a manifestation of the inexorable viciousness of the cartels, The Counselor just has characters tell Fassbender about it. Again and again. And again and again.

Additionally, McCarthy’s views on choice and consequences are made by some of the longest, most improbable conversations ever, as when one character says, “I suspect that we are ill-formed for the path we have chosen. Ill-formed and ill-prepared. We would like to draw a veil over all the blood and terror that have brought us to this place. It is our faintness of heart that would close our eyes to all of that, but in so doing it makes of it our destiny. But nothing is crueler than a coward, and the slaughter to come is probably beyond our imagining.” Okay, no one has ever dropped that in a conversation ever, since language was invented.

"Do you get the symbolism of my tattoo? If not, I can explain it to for five script-pages."

“Do you get the symbolism of my tattoo? If not, I can explain it for five script pages.”

Likewise, McCarthy and Scott aren’t afraid to punch us in the face with their symbolism. The cocaine is transported in a septic truck (these characters have literally pinned their dreams and destiny to shit). Malkina sports an expanse of leopard-spot tattoos up her back to show that she’s a predator! In the film’s first scene the counselor canoodles with Laura under immaculate, white sheets, because she’s innocent! The preferred tool of assassination in this movie is a device that automatically garrotes its victim to symbolize the noose around our protagonists tightening! Malkina humps an Italian sports car to show…

Okay, that one has me stumped.

Click to see the animated .GIF

There. Now you don’t have to see the movie.

So, that’s The Counselor. You know, from now on every movie that doesn’t feature sex with a luxury item will seem like a bit of a letdown.

(Readers, what luxury item would you have sex with? feel free to share in the comments section. For me, it would probably be my Bren Ten Marksman Special .45 automatic. I don’t know exactly how that would work, but I assume there’s probably some apparatus you can buy to facilitate things. Probably something from Japan.) 

One comment

  1. Just stumbled upon your blog and am slowly working my way through all your incredibly witty and hilarious reviews as my son lies sleeping besides me and I try hard not to laugh aloud. This review is so far the best and now I don’t mind having sat and suffered through this incorrigible movie.. Only coz I could actually relate to everything you wrote and lmao!

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