Friday, October 25, 2013

The Counselor Movie Review

Javier Bardem and Michael Fassbender (r) in The Counselor

The Mother of All Mothers

Confucius say... Ridley Scott's The Counselor is all about advice (in one way or another) with splashes of glitz, teases of sex and plenty of violence. You can credit Cormac McCarthy for the unsolicited verbiage, thanks to his wordy (almost bombastic) screenplay; but you can genuinely thank Scott for adding just enough zip to make it all seem worthwhile.

Rotten Tomatoes Plot: Legendary filmmaker Ridley Scott and Pulitzer Prize winning author Cormac McCarthy (No Country for Old Men) have joined forces in the motion picture thriller THE COUNSELOR, starring Michael Fassbender, Penélope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem, and Brad Pitt. McCarthy, making his screenwriting debut and Scott interweave the author's characteristic wit and dark humor with a nightmarish scenario, in which a respected lawyer's one-time dalliance with an illegal business deal spirals out of control.

What’s Best: There's no shortage of star power on display, but no one comes close to matching the Oscar-worthy performance delivered by Javier Bardem as a shady (but charismatic) businessman/drug dealer. Sure, his ode to Brian Grazer hairdo is bound to garner the lion's cheetah's share of attention; but Bardem's gazes, giggles and pauses did more to win me over, than any cosmetic twists (no matter how interesting.) His retelling of an early date with Malkina (Cameron Diaz) is worth the price of admission alone: I'm sure I'd stare like that too, if placed in the same position. Man, is Bardem interesting or what?

Scott deserves praise too (at least a little) for daring scenes such as a Vanity Fair-like photo op between Reiner (Bardem) and Malkina. Nothing beats the sight of Bardem fixing martinis while Diaz lovingly looks on, as one of her cheetahs chases a wild hare in the middle of a dusty nowhere.

What’s Not: I don't mean to hate on McCarthy (The Road was a great book) but his screenplay takes Scott away from what Scott does best. The Counselor plays out like the Cohen brothers' No Country for Old Men, replacing bits of doom & gloom with flashier players and pockets of humor. Random additions (pet cheetahs, snuff films, Rosie Perez) act as mere window dressing to what's basically a drug deal gone South (pun intended.)

The end of the film (where Fassbender's The Counselor visits random Mexican figures in search of help) is particularly frustrating, as we drift back and forth between Fassbender crying (hey Counselor, grow a pair!) to those aforementioned figures lecturing him on the consequences of crime. Fassbender's first hiccup on an otherwise perfect career.

Best Line: Just because it's too wordy; doesn't mean that some of the lines aren't pure gold. For example, a Dutch jeweler's response to the counselor's concern that an engagement ring may be too big for his fiancé, scores early on, 'She's probably more courageous than you think.'

From there, Reiner's 'The truth about women is that you can't bore them,' ranks a close second to a Westray (Pitt) toast about plagues to which the counselor asks, 'Is that your normal toast?' Westray answers, 'Increasingly.' Devilish prose indeed.

Overall: The Counselor is a hard film to grade: There are plenty of distractions (not all of them necessary) and it reminds me too much of A Country for Old Men. Not sure what Scott had in mind here; but it's hard to argue with the film's many positives. Ultimately, I left disappointed; but I have the feeling I'll like it a lot more, the next time I watch it. Fassbender's character appears central to it all, but he does little more than dress nicely, talk tough and say, 'I should keep that in mind,' as everyone and their uncle tries to convince him to stay clear of something he obviously has no business doing in the first place. Bardem, Diaz (and to a lesser extent) Pitt shine, and the movie works on its own just fine. Not sure they needed so much star power, but overall... worth a look.

Grade: B-