The Counsellor (**)
Running Time: 117 min
Directed by Ridley Scott
Starring-Michael Fassbender, Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Cameron Diaz and Brad Pitt
(Movie House Dublin Road Preview Screening 11/11/2013)
SADLY watching Ridley Scott’s latest feature The Counsellor was such an underwhelming and deflating viewing experience, especially when you consider its cinematic pedigree. An array of talented Hollywood A-listers onscreen, the presence of Scott himself at the helm and a screenplay written by acclaimed novelist Cormac McCarthy. Viewers have every right then to expect more from this feature than the tediously talky and convoluted affair that it is.
Irish actor Michael Fassbender leads an ensemble cast that includes Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Cameron Diaz and even Brad Pitt in a small supporting role. The feature suffered a problematic production due to the untimely death of the director’s brother Tony Scott while filming was taking place in August 2012. As a gesture Ridley Scott has dedicated the movie to his late brother’s memory.
Fassbender plays a character known only as the Counsellor throughout the film, a person who seemingly has everything anyone would ever want. He’s a rich successful lawyer with a beautiful fiancé played by Penelope Cruz, but his greed soon gets the better of him. He’s convinced to come on board on a drug trafficking deal by his crooked business partner Reiner, played by a barely recognisable Javier Bardem, with the promise of a high financial return on the risky venture.
But when the deal goes badly wrong he soon finds himself way out of his depth and under suspicion from those behind the deal. Their middle-man Westray (Pitt) advises Fassbender’s character to protect himself and his bride-to-be before his employers seek their retribution. All while Reiner’s stunningly beautiful girlfriend Malkina (Diaz) lurks menacingly in the background.
The film is shot beautifully, cinematographer Dariusz Wolski has done a wonderful job in making such morally vacuous people and their surroundings look so beautiful. But it’s all let down by such a terribly problematic screenplay written by American author Cormac McCarthy. Undoubtedly the man is a talented novelist, after all two of his novels The Road and No Country for Old Men have been successfully adapted to the big screen, with the latter going on to win the Academy Award for best motion picture in 2008.
But on evidence here, his work as a screenwriter just simply isn’t up to scratch. It felt like he’d spent more time creating the characters for the film and not an overall narrative for them to exist in. As if he’d put the pieces of the film’s jigsaw plot together by banging them together with a hammer hoping they’d fit, with the result a plot that never really satisfactorily clicks together.
It’s tediously talky feature, laden with constant lamentations on the immorality of greed that never really get to the point and features some truly dreadful dialogue, ‘the truth has no temperature’ being just one memorable example muttered by Diaz’s character early on. There’s too many needless and ultimately pointless laboured discussions between characters on a variety of subjects, from snuff movies to Diamonds,that only really add to the sense that the film is smugly meandering through its near two-hour runtime.
In their defence most of the cast put in good central performances, doing the best they can with the film’s cumbersome script. Fassbender and Pitt are two fine actors but they both play similar characters to what we’ve seen them portray on-screen before. Fassbender’s character seems terribly reminiscent of Brandon from Shame and Pitt is plays a character not dissimilar from his role in Killing Them Softly. Cruz’s character Laura is left with very little to do onscreen and her real-life husband Javier Bardem will be remembered more for his character’s overly tanned, flamboyant appearance than for anything he says or does within the feature.
Cameron Diaz is really the only actor playing against type as the film’s scheming femme-fatale, her performance oozes sexuality from start-to finish and she’s clearly having a ball playing the over the top character. Twenty years on from the performance in The Mask that launched her as an onscreen sex-symbol, she still looks as stunningly beautiful as ever.
Her character Malkina has one truly jaw-dropping scene within the film, a cringe worthy sequence involving a Ferrari that will live long in the viewer’s memories long after they’ve watched this otherwise forgettable feature.
But that’s exactly the crux of the film’s problem, other than a few standout sequences there simply isn’t very much going onscreen. Much like his 2001 film Hannibal and even his last film, Prometheus, Scott has helmed a feature that’s let down by its underwhelming and misfiring screenplay. Behind all the onscreen glitz and glamour there’s very little substance to back everything all up.
Review by William McClean