THE COUNSELOR Review

by     Posted 1 year, 57 days ago

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In his crime thriller No Country for Old Men, author Cormac McCarthy’s prose is taut, tense, and doesn’t waste a word.  Unfortunately, his literary style doesn’t translate well to his script for The Counselor or Ridley Scott’s direction.  The film is ostensibly in the same vein as an unforgiving, ruthless crime flick where greedy people get in over their heads, innocents get caught in the crossfire, and only the most ruthless thrive.  This vibrancy fades in and out through the picture, but it’s usually overshadowed by forced, awkward monologues that cut the tension in favor indulgent pontification and dime store philosophy.

The Counselor (a character without a real name and played by Michael Fassbender) has decided to get married to his beautiful, innocent girlfriend Laura (Penelope Cruz).  However, for mysterious reasons, he’s decided to get greedy and cut in on a deal with his drug lord client, Reiner (Javier Bardem sporting a distracting hairdo).  Even with Reiner’s cold, calculating girlfriend Malkina (Cameron Diaz) clearly plotting at the edges, the Counselor believes his drug deal for $20 million should be no problem, so naturally the deal falls apart and he gets in over his head.

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Until everything goes to hell, the Counselor is cool, calm, and collected.  Fassbender wears a big, shit-eating grin on his face as other characters dole out philosophy, anecdotes, and thinly veiled metaphors.  When the Counselor goes to buy an engagement ring for Laura, the jeweler (Bruno Ganz) explains the details of the stone but the film may as well shout, “Of course he’s not talking about the finer points of jewelry!  He’s relaying subtext and foreshadowing!  LISTEN UP.”  The movie does dance around the notion of a Counselor as a priest for the avaricious as he listens to various confessions or diatribes, but he’s mostly just a handsome sounding board.

Sometimes what the characters have to say is worth hearing, but it’s mostly dependent on the actor to push past the strained dialogue.  Brad Pitt, who plays a savvy middleman in the drug deal, lets pearls of wisdom and anecdotes about snuff films languidly roll of his tongue.  He finds a way to breathe life into a shallow character, but most of his co-stars fail to match him.  Fassbender’s tremendous range is wasted as the Counselor quickly goes from confident to a sniveling mess, and even though another character points out the Counselor’s thin-skin, it still makes for a bland arc until the he’s pushed to the brink.

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The most bizarre performance from Diaz, and it highlights the worst aspects of the script and the direction.  While Scott deserves some credit for trying to make Diaz play against type, the character is too much of a cartoon to be taken seriously.  Malkina owns cheetahs and her tattoos look like cheetah spots.  It’s fine that the film doesn’t try to hide her predatory nature, but the exaggerated nature of her character, Reiner’s hairstyle, and the rest of the picture creates a collection of caricatures operating inside what’s presented as an unforgiving moral landscape.

Scott seems confused at the direction he should take the film.  Sometimes he wants to play to the insanity and will set up crazy moments like a decapitation wire, throw in a disturbing device called a “bolito”, and give new meaning to the word “catfish”.  But then he’ll step back and try to provide a counterbalance where characters can go on awkward monologues without any interference.  And with this freedom, the words lack any naturalism.  The speaker finishes talking and we expect the listener to respond, “So what’s that from?”

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The Counselor is somehow both over-the-top and muted.  It’s a movie where everyone down to a Juarez bartender has kernels of “wisdom”, but rarely does anyone saying something worthwhile or insightful.  “The truth has no temperature” Malkina tells Reiner early in the movie.  It’s a line that at first listen seems deep and thoughtful, but then you realize it’s utter bullshit.  Some truths are frigid and uncaring, and other truths can send someone into a fiery rage.  The line “the truth has no temperature” is either a gussied up tautology (“it is what it is”) or the equally vapid “everything is relative” (except that statement…and that one…and that one…to infinity).  For all of its theatrics, The Counselor is mostly hollow words in a hollow world.

Rating: C-

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  • http://www.collider.com/ DNAsplitter

    The reviews that have been coming in have been blasting the film. Matt’s review seems to mirror those. It’s a shame as I love the cast and director but Ridley Scott has been very hit or miss lately (Robin Hood, Body of Lies and Promethious) have all been let downs to his previous work.

  • Person

    Really looking forward to this but my alarms started going off earlier this week when we were days away from release and still without any reviews. Hopefully this turns out to be one of those love-it-or-hate-it movies so there’s at least some hope of loving it, cuz I really want to. Cast is phenomenal and I’m one of the few who’s liked pretty much all of Ridley Scott’s recent work (except Robin Hood). Fingers crossed that The Counselor ends up being worthwhile.

    • Person

      Saw this last night, still processing it and not really sure what to think. Some of the specifics of the plot went over my head (a second viewing is required for those with enough patience), but the characters are very interesting (especially Pitt, who steals the movie) and I thought the final third of the film was pretty fantastic. No, it doesn’t live up to the hype of its pedigree, and Cameron Diaz is badly miscast, but I don’t think it’s 36% RT bad either. I do need to see it again though, or read the published screenplay. Maybe both. For a movie I didn’t exactly love, I’m weirdly fascinated by The Counselor.

  • Hallie

    Currently at 42% on RT. Matt seems pretty accurate with this one.

  • zac

    well it can’t be worse than Prometheus so Ill watch it

    • itsworsethanprometheus

      It’s worse than Prometheus.

      • Heinz Doofenshmirtz

        Prometheus was a metaphor about liberalism on a small scale. The Counselor takes that metaphor to a global scale. And it fails as well.

      • Heinz Doofenshmirtz

        Prometheus was a metaphor about liberalism on a small scale. The Counselor takes that metaphor to a global scale. And it fails as well.

  • Bo

    Heck, I probably shouldn’t even bother with this. Well, why not? To read something written by someone I would hesitate to even label a writer taking to task a writer like McCarthy as having any merit whatsoever is a really big mistake. Same for same light weight critic(?) taking to task a filmmaker like Ridley Scott. Best to go see this film yourself and not trust Matt’s view or perception of said film. McCarthy does not write for medicore or dumb people. His stuff is dark and elusive and filled with an irony many are not smart enough to understand. It’s a free country and bumpkins can scribble their nonsense views for any and all if they have a forum such as this web site to do so, but best to remember the source. It would be of one’s best interest to not take this said critcal view point of Matt’s too seriously as read just one paragraph of McCarthy compared to his hack scribblings and you’ll get the full measure of what I mean. I’d like to say sorry to Matt, but why? If he can scribble moronic views on works of artists way over his pay grade why can’t I scribble my perceptions and views of his light-weight silliness? What’s good for the goose and all that…righto? All will continue to do what they do, but I’ll stick with McCarthy and Ridley Scott and ignore Matt…lol…

    • IMPYEMU

      You’re right, you shouldn’t have even bothered.

    • With Apologies to Goldberg

      While I believe Matt should have a right to his opinion, I did cringe when Matt descontructed the “truth has no temperature” line with his “sometimes the truth can be fiery”. It’s like seeing a guy who’s had a few amateur bouts get flung into the ring with Mayweather and then have the gall to try and show Mayweather how to pull off some fancy moves, immediately before getting KTFO. Cormac’s work will be critiqued for decades hence so I’m sure we’ll see more of this as the years go by.

    • Strong Enough

      so cormac can’t write craP? please. every writer has shitty material

      • Collider’s Readership

        You’re pound for pound easily the worst poster in all of the internet forums I’ve ever read. I don’t even understand you angle. It’s a steaming pile of unaware stupidity shat out every single post that isn’t funny, insightful or even charming. Are you a real person or like some kind of performance art piece? I really, really don’t get it.

      • The Flobbit

        I’ve seen much worse.

      • Pk

        He’s a Nolan fanboy

      • Strong Enough

        and you are always on my nuts. you love the warm hairy feeling you get eh?

      • ________

        Just ask the faggots that love JJ abrams’ jewish meatballs, sick shits they are. What a hack jj is. Star Wars is doomed.

      • Strong Enough

        J.J. isn’t jewish. Damon Lindelof who is jewish, has stated multiple times he isn’t lmao

      • Pk

        He’s a Nolan fanboy

      • Strong Enough

        tell em why you mad son! counselor script was shit. deal with it chump!

    • lordjim

      cormac mccarthy certainly belongs to the best living writers, but ridley scott?when he was great he was style over substance (just compare blade runner to dick´s book, and i do love that movie for it´s style but it is style over substance, scott´s masterpiece has to be alien anyway), and he just lost his style (yes, he knows how to make beautiful paintings, but they don´t fit, just compare the expedition to the alienship in alien to the one in prometheus, after black rain scott turned into a uninspired mainstream director with no original direction ideas at all, i don´t get the hype, this man used to be an artist and sold out ages ago, he makes entertaining hollywood products but nothing to remember, mccarthy would need someone more daring, someone with edges.if ridley scott made porn it would be softcore with a big budget, nobody needs that.

      • IMPYEMU

        I think you hit the nail on the head there. When I think about all the Ridley Scott movies that I’ve seen, I feel that way about them. They’re usually visually interesting, but they lack that substance that makes them memorable and really enjoyable.

      • The Flobbit

        You are an idiot beyond compare and belief.

      • IMPYEMU

        Like I care what ‘The Flobbit’ thinks about my level of intelligence.

  • IMPYEMU

    Damn. I’m surprised that the most criticized aspect of the movie, not just by Matt but by a lot of critics, is McCarthy’s writing. The Road is one of my favorite novels and No Country was a great film with a great story.

    I thought if anything it’d be Scott or Diaz and Cruz who’d mess this one up.

    • The Flobbit

      McCarthy is EXTREMELY divisive.

      • itsworsethanprometheus

        It’s not really a matter of McCarthy’s style being divisive this time. The movie is just sloppy. I’ve read the script a few times, and I was getting annoyed by reviews saying that The Counselor was too vague. I liked how the script provided you with just enough info to figure it out, so I figured critics were just whining that they weren’t spoon fed. NOPE. The movie isn’t really the script that was online and just recently published. The movie is just so jumbled and, yes, vague that it’s difficult to figure out what’s going on at any given moment. Like I said, I’ve read the script a few times (because I love how it’s written)– and I still had a hard time following the movie!

      • IMPYEMU

        Every movie is divisive. Every movie has people who like and don’t like it.

  • NICK НΛRT

    38% on RT and falling. Shame. McCarthy really is one of the best authors of the past century. Will still probably check it out on dvd.

    • BradZuhl

      Being a great author doesn’t translate into being a great screenwriter, even if some of his novels have been translated into good films. Cormac wrote this one as an original screenplay. Maybe he should stick to novels.

      • Conor

        You should watch The Sunset Limited.

    • The Flobbit

      Watch it in cinemas. It’s that kind of film – gorgeous, sweeping cinematography, and the like.

    • Guest

      Yep, I’m waiting for DVD now. Was excited but it’s just too expensive if that many people are digging it.

    • Guest

      Yep, I’m waiting for DVD now. Was excited but it’s just too expensive if that many people are digging it.

  • junierizzle

    This movie just never looked good to me even with it’s cast and director.

  • Guest

    Fassbender’s tremendous range? You got to be kidding!

    • Nonnamuse

      What’s wrong with Fassbender?

      • Huh…

        Nothing, if you think whispering is great acting.

      • Huh…

        Nothing, if you think whispering is great acting.

  • Norrtron

    I’ve been enjoying a lot of movies recently that have been below 50% on RT, so I’m not going to just take the critics word on this one. I’m still excited for it.

  • Timmy O Toole

    Hey Matt,
    You’re probably busy and I don’t know if you read the comments or not but may I offer a counter point to the point you made about “the truth has no temperature”. You used examples that show how a person’s response to “truth” can be said to give it a “temperature” but I think you’re actually supporting the underlying meaning of the line. The truth in and of itself is an objective meaning; you can delivery or react to “truth” hotly or cooly but that doesn’t change the value of “truth” itself, which is the meaning of the line as written and the contention “it has no temperature”.
    My thoughts anyway (it’s my degree in English causing me to nerd out). A response would be cool if you’re interested at all, I don’t want to troll you or anything.

  • The Flobbit

    I think the problem here is McCarthy’s writing, which, while brilliant, is enormously divisive. You will either love it or you hate it. Scott called it “some of the best dialogue I had ever seen”, and from what I see from the teasers, I’m inclined to agree.

    The problem here is not with Scott, say, adapting a work of Cormac’s, but actually copying word-for-word what he wrote. Cormac McCarthy’s work is electrifying, difficult, hard to like, and exclusive. It’s not for everybody.

    I however, am not deterred at all. I only want to watch this more – to see the dialogue, to experience it all. I hope you are not deterred too. Scott is a director of tremendous talent (and if you forget, there’s always Blade Runner. End of story), and he directs a cast of stellar quality.

    I hope this becomes a future cult classic.

    • itsworsethanprometheus

      “I hope this becomes a future cult classic.” The thing is though, it’s just a bad movie. Not because it’s style is so jarring and divisive– it’s just bad. Really, there’s no style to this movie to be jarring and divisive. It’s actually so generic, it felt like anyone could have written it.

      • The Flobbit

        Go away. You obviously have no taste in cinema, and I doubt you have even seen the film. If you have, you were probably too stoned or ignorant to appreciate it.

      • IMPYEMU

        Getting stoned and seeing this divisive piece of classic cinema sounds like a waste of a good high.

      • The Flobbit

        Sounds like you would know what you are talking about.

  • Sam

    I just got home from seeing The Counselor and Matt, and most of the critics, are unusually correct about this film. This movie barely delivers. With all the talent behind this film, it makes it even more disappointing on how lackluster and plain old uninspired it was. I had high hopes and was let down completely. See it for yourself if you want, but I’d do it later when it’s on streaming instead.

  • NMphotog

    Matt nailed it. There is absolutely a gem in the dialog but there’s not much movie here. Even the most die-hard McCarthy apologists at work swore it to be forgotten after they walked out of the theater.

    Despite my soft spot for some of the ravenous dialog and I still think it is worth watching, I believe there was better gold to be mined in the material than the end product.

  • Heinz Doofenshmirtz

    Liberal garbage.

  • Heinz Doofenshmirtz

    Liberal garbage.

  • Strong Enough

    STHU

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