By Will Ashton | firstname.lastname@example.org| @thewillofash
The Counselor| Directed by Ridley Scott| Rated R
There are movies you know instantly what you felt about them. Then there are movies take you an hour or two to process. Then, there are the ones that take a day or so to really process. The ones that you have to sit down just to figure out whether or not you even liked what you just saw.
The Counselor is the latter.
Directed by Ridley Scott, starring Michael Fassbender, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem and Brad Pitt and written by Cormac McCarthy, one of the best contemporary American writers, it should have been a slam-dunk. But, sometimes, a group of talented people can make something that, especially when attempting to do a lot at once, fails to make much of anything. These are called messes.
It’s not so much that The Counselor is a bad movie. It’s just that it’s a very confused one. The biggest problem of the film, sadly, appears to be from its script. Normally, this is the part of the review where I would give a mild recap of the story; a summary of what people will experience watching the film. I can’t do this for The Counselor, however, because, well, there really isn’t one.
Sure, there is a very, very loose thread of the a story involving Fassbender’s character, called only Counselor throughout, getting involved with the wrong people and suffering the consequences of it. We have all seen this story before, many, many times in fact. What can make or break it is what it offers alongside it. Does The Counselor offering anything? Eh…. kind of.
While it may play better on the page, in film form, McCarthy’s script is so all-over-the-place that it fails to really say anything in particular. It says a lot of things, mainly about morality, sex and corruption, but these all feel like ramblings from a man who had a lot to say without knowing how to say them.
There are some elegant and beautiful pieces of dialogue here. It’s hard to deny that the film does not have its moments. This is definitely a movie made by intelligent people, and that they are communicating on some thought-provoking themes. But the filmmakers seem to neglect one of the most important aspects of storytelling: focus.
Without a sense of direction, there is nothing to drive what is happening, and there is especially nothing driving the audience to care about what is happening in front of them. In saying all these things, the film often neglects to develop character, or derive a sense of why anything is happening. Often, character will do various actions that are never explained, with characters that are not often developed or introduced. As the audience tries to figure out what’s happening, they begin to stop carrying because the film itself doesn’t really seem to bother wanting us to know how everything is interconnected. There’s a difference between living the audience to figure something out and just not explaining things. Unfortunately, The Counselor seems to do the latter.
It’s not so much that the filmmakers don’t care altogether or are doing a bad job. Scott, as usually, gives some very rich, striking images (often even involving a color palette more in lined with his late brother Tony than his), and directs his actors well. Acting across the board, save for, at times, Diaz, is quite good as well. The cast is eager and brings their game for the film. In particular, Bardem and Pitt have some great scenes, and are given some juicy monologues from McCarthy. While these sequences are certainly enjoyable at times, many, including the now infamous scene of Bardem recounting the time Diaz’s character masturbates on his car, don’t really connect themselves to the story. They come across as philosophical rambles from an intelligent man not knowing where to channel his feelings and frustrations.
Ultimately, The Counselor is a very confused little movie. In its attempt to say a little bit about almost everything, it doesn’t end up saying anything. Therefore, we are given a collection of well written but pointless sequences featuring fine acting and directing. It’s certainly not the worse move you can see at the multiplex right now, but it certainly could have been so, so much better.
Perhaps this is just one of those movies that I need to revisit in a couple years. Maybe a second viewing would tell me something that I didn’t capture the first time. I was never bored watching this story, but the film’s lack of story direction and character made me unable to take away anything from the film. Ultimately, then, I left the movie feeling cold, which I expected, but also empty, something I never, ever would have expecting coming from the pen of McCarthy. The Counselor is just one of those movies that doesn’t really hit you one way or the other. The more you think about it, the more hollow it seems. It just sits there, wanting to say something big and important. Sometimes it does, but it never drives it home. There was a good movie here, McCarthy just didn’t seem to find what that should be.