"The Counselor" (2013)- Movie Review

Directed by Ridley Scott
Written by Cormac McCarthy
Starring Michael Fassbender, Javier Bardem and Cameron Diaz
‘A Shameful Waste of Talent’
Glamorous style overrides any substance in “The Counselor”, a film of shamefully wasted talent, poor storytelling and characters you couldn’t care less for. If you relish the bizarre experience of watching a woman sexually hump a car amidst a story that demands to be taken seriously, then this is the movie for you. In the case, however, that you’d rather save yourself the ticket price, the same experience can easily be created at any time by watching colorful paint dry.

Am I being too harsh on this film or just purely honest? Truth be told, my expectations for the movie couldn’t have been higher due to it’s audacious cast. What could possibly go wrong with such talented people involved? Even if anything did, wouldn’t they be able to enlighten the murkiest atmospheres of any film? It’s often said that actors have the ability to create magic in the unlikeliest of circumstances, yet in Ridley Scott’s “The Counselor” even they can’t save the day.

The respect I had for them crumbles under the shortcomings of “The Counselor”, a movie that doesn’t want you to care about any of it’s characters, can’t be bothered to draw you into a story, and worst of all, misuses talented people, both in front of and behind screen. You might already be thinking, then what is the actual purpose of such a film? When it refuses to cater towards audiences, is there a reason for it to even exist? To my dismay, the highly acclaimed director Ridley Scott as well as author-turned-screenwriter Cormac McCarthy have considered the idea of embarrassing themselves. Well, without realizing actual consequences, they have made the epitome of a bad decision: a motion picture that offers everything we go to the movies hoping not to see.

I hesitate to say that there’s a plot. If there even is one, it’s the kind that’s far from explainable or the least bit comprehensible in structure. Surely, the basics of it can be understood yet what bothers me is that my brain is fried like scrambled eggs when I start to think of exactly how it develops. Set in the dark, dingy world of the drug trafficking business, it revolves around a drug deal gone bad. The victim at the center of the situation is a mysterious lawyer who solely goes by the name ‘The Counselor’ (Michael Fassbender). Ambitious and strikingly confident, he willingly dips his toes into a dangerous world of sex, booze and life-changing decisions. Having no idea of how such a business works, he is forced to somehow flee out of it before his head is served on a platter.

From here on in, the film demands our attention by piling numerous characters, subplots and ludicrously out-of-the-ordinary scenes but in a catastrophic mess, can’t find any reason for us to appreciate them.

The clumsily handled story, whilst diving into intriguing topics such as greed and deception, features some of the most dull, uninteresting characters you’ll come across this year. Although they sport undeniably stylish outfits, such as unique hairdos, funky sunglasses and bright clothes, when you look beyond mere appearance they’re more like empty glasses waiting to be filled than actual people. With one-dimensional personalities, as well as a lacking sense of presence excluding glittery clothing, they want us to care about their lives even when they themselves seem to have no heart or souls. Trying to find a reason to root for these characters is frustratingly like treading feet through the shallowest of waters; watching them interact equivalent to the experience of settling in the loneliest depths of an ocean.

Whatever shades of glory the audacious cast saw in portraying such muddled roles is beyond my intelligence. Here, the majority of their talents are ignorantly thrown into a garbage bin and any charisma that they usually have as movie-stars vanishes under the spell of poor characterization.

Among the stars that are ‘one-by-one’ utterly wasted is Penelope Cruz. In a stereotypical, cliched role of a woman who is naively unaware of her boyfriend’s whereabouts, the actress has never been more wooden. Her ‘performance’ consists of staring into empty spaces or as I label daydreaming in misery. Glum expressions hint that she’s perpetually bored in a state of despair. Is it mere coincidence that I was feeling the same way while watching her act?

Michael Fassbender, who stars in the titular role as the ‘counselor’, also surrenders his talents to a character that’s shallow, only less so. Unlike Cruz, whose act seems effortless, at least he aims to entertain the audience. That said, even as he tries to make the most out of a paper-thin character, his acting lacks the eye-catching charm or charisma he usually has up his sleeve as a performer.

Thankfully, on the other end of the spectrum Javier Bardem and Cameron Diaz seem to be far more interested in their characters, and notably build fascination behind the persona of their roles. Bardem, sporting his wackiest hairstyle yet, has a glowing presence that ignites a glimmer a hope. But don’t get your expectations up…when time finally arrives and we get to undercover the hood beneath his acting, we realize that he’s unfairly wasted as a plot device.

The juiciest role ends up belonging to Cameron Diaz, the only star to make a memorable impression in “The Counselor”. There’s something in her sultry, suspicious eyes and intriguing behavior that resides with you long after the credits role, and despite the queer nature of her character, she brings creativity to the table that may not have been present had another actress portrayed the role.

On another positive note, gorgeous cinematography and a sizzling soundtrack stop you from dozing off during the movie. The film is shot with a distinctive visual voice capturing the beautiful desert-like landscapes of New Mexico, as well as setting the gritty atmosphere and palpable tension of the story. Gleefully, for every treat for the eyes, there’s also a treat for the ears. Daniel Pemberton’s upbeat score, which reminded me of music featured in Western films of the 60’s, like “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”, is upbeat and melodic without being overbearing.

Unfortunately, though, such minor improvements aren’t nearly enough to make up for a movie that neither knows what it wants to be nor when to end. Like an adolescent unsure of which path to take in life, director Ridley Scott is confused about the sort of mood his film should have; at times horrendously obsessing over the topic of sex while also determined to dive head forth into the tragic darkness surrounding the characters’ lives. This creates a starkly odd contrast, so inconsistent that it appears as if you’re watching two different films at once. One of these movies has a strange obsession with sex, and is purely idiotic, while the other demands to be taken solemnly as a tragedy.

At a slow running time of two hours that feels rather like three, it’s exhaustively tough to take the latter any seriously when the former is shockingly ridiculous. Excitement exists in neither. The pacing drags at a snail’s speed, and particularly when there’s a lack of interesting characters or events, it slowly creeps up on your senses.

Oh the joyous wonders of being confused! There’s an incoherence in the team-up between writer Cormac McCarthy and director Ridley Scott, who have preposterous trouble meshing scenes together as well as making them relevant to the story’s development. Countless sequences feel oddly out-of-place, superfluous and even pointless, with no purpose to exist. One such scene announces the arrival of Dean Norris, the star from “Breaking Bad”, who maybe mutters two or three lines.

But by then, it’s far too late for compensation- my mind has already drifted off into encompassing thoughts of it’s own and a slew of Hollywood’s best actors have lost the special place they once held in my heart.

2/5 stars

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