If there’s one lesson “Breaking Bad” taught us, it was this: never, under any circumstances and no matter how great the reward seems, get involved in the drug trade. What it also taught us was that if we did get involved in it, what ultimately awaits us is an endless pit of paranoia, pain and plenty of regret that offers no way out save for one – no elaboration needed on it, I presume. Ridley Scott’s “The Counselor” is not so much a cautionary tale of the dangers and delusions of the drug trade as it is a bloody, brutal and bold tale of one man’s ambition for wealth and the sheer blindness and ignorance he used to pursue it.
“Money Problems are Serious Problems”
Michael Fassbender plays the eponymous, nameless lawyer who seems to have it all – a beautiful fiancé (Penelope Cruz), a lavish lifestyle and a powerful assortment of colourful friends, one of whom is the flashy, talkative Reiner (Javier Bardem). When Reiner offers the Counselor the chance to make the deal of a lifetime profiting from a drug deal, our protagonist, against his better judgment and quite ironic to his profession, gets involved and, as you may have guessed, things go awfully awry with bloody consequences.
Like a Mini-Season of “Breaking Bad”
I had high expectations going into this film; the director, the stars, the story – everything seemed to fit. To put the icing on the cake, this was Pulitzer Prize-winning author Cormac McCarthy’s screenwriting debut and, being an admirer of his work, I knew this was going to be something special. This film plays more like a Shakespearean tragedy than a crime thriller – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but allow me to elaborate. This being McCarthy’s screenplay debut, there’s a very literary feel about the film as most scenes involve characters exchanging deep philosophical musings on themes such as truth, greed, life, love and death. The dialogue is brilliant and sharp with many memorable lines delivered by a star-studded cast but often it feels tacked on and unnecessary. The characters speak their minds fluidly and with grace but with an added sense of foreboding, giving each scene a haunting atmosphere – a calm before the storm, if you will. The violence in this film is that storm, with not a single frame wasted during the action sequences; the killings are grotesque and brutal and serve as a poignant example of just how lethal this business is. There’s even mention of a device which, once fastened around your neck, constricts a thin wire tighter and tighter until, POP! And yes, you do get to see it in all its bloody glory before it’s all said and done.
Colourful Cast, Black and White Plot
The cast of “The Counselor” is phenomenal. Michael Fassbender delivers yet another amazing performance and his transformation from a confident and charismatic charmer to a shaky, paranoid wreck is one of the film’s greatest strengths. Bardem is memorable as ever as Reiner, sporting a wacky hairdo and a loud tropical shirt to match. Reiner’s girlfriend, Malkina (Cameron Diaz), is the complete opposite – she’s a cold, ruthless huntress whose two pet cheetahs act more as extensions of her personality than exotic collectables. There’s also a very awkward and unapologetically campy scene in which she has sex with Reiner’s Ferrari that still leaves me confused as to how it made the final cut. Laura, the Counselor’s fiancé, is more naïve to the actions of her lover than one might expect and her perceived purity is what makes her the only truly innocent member of this enigmatic ensemble. Brad Pitt does works with what he has but that’s it, really. In truth, Fassbender is the real star here while everyone else seems like filler; there is so much talent and potential in this film’s cast that it becomes painful to see that the filmmakers didn’t really strive to get the best out of everyone.
Where the film really falls short, however, is in plot and pacing. The story, save for a few twists, is relatively simple and becomes quite predictable as the film progresses. There’s an elevated sense of suspense once things pick up but everything just gets so bleak and miserable that all the build-up feels like it amounted to nothing special. I really wanted the plot to surprise me and go in a certain direction but from the get-go, I had to resign myself to the fact that there was only one way things were going to end and that I’d just have to enjoy the ride as best as I could.
“The Counselor” is a sleek, stylish thriller which takes no prisoners with its fast-paced approach to story and action. Though the film may sell itself to you as something taut and gripping, it’s only as strong as it aims to be – there’s not much to be said or done after the credits roll. A powerful screenplay by Cormac McCarthy and some wonderful – if a bit reserved – direction from Ridley Scott make it a decent popcorn flick but don’t expect too much or you may be disappointed. One thing is clear, though: drugs are bad… very, very bad. M’kay?