If it hasn’t happened already, someday one of your favorite actors or actresses will die. Be it old age, cancer, a tragic drug overdose or a plane crash, it obviously happens, and will happen again. You’ll be watching the Oscars, the Golden Globes or whatever, and there will inevitably be one of those “In Memoriam” segments that runs snippets of a person’s silver screen career. And you’ll recognize all the snippets, except for one, and you’ll say, “Damn, I can’t place what the hell that’s from.” Maybe you saw it and forgot it. Maybe you swore you would and never did. Maybe you picked the box up at All the Best Video 20 different times and carried it around the store for an hour only to put it back on the shelf at the very last second.
That’s The Counselor. Allow me to explain.
Directed by Ridley Scott (Alien, Prometheus), The Counselor is hard not to at least peek at through the corner of your eye—it rolls out an absolute A-list cast, star-studded to the gold fronts. Michael Fassbender (Inglourious Basterds) plays, well, “the counselor,” a cocky, nameless, quick-witted El Paso, Texas lawyer with a beautiful bride-to-be (Penelope Cruz), whom he enjoys performing oral sex upon. Driven by greed and an implied sense of invincibility, the counselor decides to try his hand at the drug trade, arranging the nuts and bolts of a major coke deal via Juarez and the Cartel. His associates are Reiner (Javier Bardem) and Westray (Brad Pitt), both of whom have deep Cartel connections, and both of whom sardonically advise the counselor not to take this irreversible step. Ominously watching from the sidelines is Malkina (Cameron Diaz), Bardem’s devilishly intelligent and underhanded lover. But the counselor, whom Fassbender cleverly portrays as the type of pretty boy know-it-all you’d love to see fail, fears not what he can’t understand and dives in head first.
This plot comes screaming at you like the pulse of a comatose camel. Scott’s attention to cinematography and the film’s general slickness is not to go unnoticed, but what’s lost in the lavish setting of Bardem’s hillside mansion and Pitt’s custom cowboy suits is an overall sense of pacing. Scott, though, would most likely brush such a criticism aside, and point to the philosophic tone that abounds, a pacemaker by design. Written by renowned author Cormac McCarthy, each character in the film finds their own personal way to wax intellectual on the morality and life-death practicality of the various paths they’ve chosen. Mixed up in all this pseudo-intellectual morbidity is a strange and overt interplay of seething sexuality. Diaz—who now looks something akin to an alien from Communion—caps this theme late with a truly bizarre soliloquy on the carnal nature of her prize cheetah killing wild rabbits.
Scott eventually heats things up a bit, if only for a minute. The counselor’s drug deal goes horribly wrong from the inside out, leaving both him and his associates $20 million in debt to the Cartel. This spells ultimate doom for all parties involved, giving way to a series of brutal killings that in one instance even comes as a mild surprise, given the natural expectations of a formulaic Hollywood rescue mission. But just as things get interesting, you realize the movie is nearly done. One of those where you say something like, “Is this about to end? I think it’s ending. This is the end. It’s over.”
Of course I can’t say The Counselor is a total failure. It wasn’t painful to watch. Individually, there was plenty to grin about. Javier Bardem was brilliant, as always. Brad Pitt was sexy Brad Pitt, as always. There were notable and agreeable cameos (Dean Norris, Bruno Ganz, Rosie Perez, John Leguizamo, Natalie Dormer). Even Cameron Diaz, weird plastic surgery aside, was more than adequate. But none of these actors and actresses will be remembered for what they did in The Counselor. It was forgettable, elegant and profound as the intention may have been. Maybe it’s just that I have trouble relating to the philosophic ponderings of man accepting fate in the face of unfathomable adversity when coming from the perspective of wealthy, fashionable coke peddlers. Perhaps I simply can’t appreciate the plight. I’ve also never seen a leggy blonde achieve an orgasm on the windshield of a Ferrari before. Does that make you want to see The Counselor more, or less? I won’t judge you either way.