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MOVIE REVIEW | The Counsellor (2013)

From the writer of some of the greatest American novels of the last half century…  From the director of several genre redefining blockbusters that only get more acclaimed as the years past…  A cast including Michael Fassbender, Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, Brad Pitt and Cameron Diaz…  Al Gore should make a documentary about the horrific squandering of resources that went into making one of The Counsellor.

Michael Fassbender is the titular Counsellor, a lawyer mixed up with some bad dudes.  Bad dudes like Javier Bardem as Reiner, and his wife Malkina (Cameron Diaz).  They’re on the verge of a massive drug deal and the Counsellor is getting more and more mixed up in their world.  While Reiner is all big hair, outlandish, flashy clothes, pet Leopards and extravagance, Westray (Brad Pitt) is his opposite.  The quiet, calculating professional who calls it like it is, and has made all the sensible choices that he hopes will lead to a quiet retirement from the drug game.

When a sewage truck full of coke goes missing, the Counsellor is the prime suspect, and the world of drug cartels starts to close in around him and everyone he knows, including his fiancé, Penelope Cruz as Laura.  There are a lot of characters and really, their only defining characteristics are where they fall on the prick-o-metre.  I barely kept track of what was going on, and even then, only by remembering how much I hated each character in relation to each other.

Like a lot Cormack McCarthy stories, The Counsellor takes place in a weird limbo between the United States and Mexico.  The borderlands populated by the worst people from both countries, with the legal protections of neither.  When your world is populated by these corrupt, bottom feeding, narcissistic sociopaths, you’re never gonna have a character to relate to or cheer for.  I guess Penelope Cruz’s Laura is kind of an innocent we can sympathise with.  But on the other hand, the movie never gives us a chance to really know her, sho why care about what happens to her, innocent or not.

Also like a lot Cormack McCarthy stories, he comes up with new ways to kill people, new ways to degrade people and new ways to make you question why we should even bother if this is the kind of world we live in.  Sure, McCarthy has never shied away from darkness, brutality and horror in his novels, like The Road, No Country for Old Men and especially Blood Meridian, but somehow, it felt like it had a point in those stories.  When The Counsellor indulges in some new decapitation methods, or has Diaz mount the windscreen of a sports car, it seems more like some hack trying to write like McCarthy, with all the shock and none of the substance.

Did The Counsellor suffer from too much pressure and expectations based on the pedigree of everyone behind and in front of the camera?  Maybe.  Would it still have been derided as being pretty terrible even if it was made by anonymous nobodies, Ha, you bet.  At best, it’s worth watching as a bizarre curiosity.  It’s almost like a riddle, how did so many talented people all collectively shit the bed so bad?

The Counsellor
Directed By – Ridley Scott
Written By – Cormac McCarthy