Review: 'The Counselor' is a ponderous puzzler

Posted at 11/15/2013 12:17 PM | Updated as of 11/15/2013 2:13 PM

When I first heard about this film and its pedigreed credentials: Director Ridley Scott, starring Michael Fassbender, Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz and Brad Pitt, I was excited to see it. However, because of the very poor reviews and box office performance Stateside, I have tempered my expectations before I went to see it. And so should you.

"The Counselor" refers to the nameless character played by Michael Fassbender. He appears to be a very successful lawyer, happily engaged to a gorgeous, church-going girl (Penelope Cruz). However, for some reason this film never really completely discloses, he still felt the need to get himself involved with a Mexican drug cartel, peppered with colorful characters, like the wild-haired Reiner (Javier Bardem), his slinky girlfriend Malkina (Cameron Diaz) and the urban cowboy Westray (Brad Pitt). Will the Counselor get away with both the girl and cash?

When I saw in the opening credits that the script was by Cormac McCarthy, who also wrote "No Country for Old Men" (which I did not exactly like), I braced myself for one puzzling and boring ride.

It was, for the most part. However, there were those pockets of incredible tension and violence involving necks which you will not soon forget.

Michael Fassbender was okay as the titular Counselor, but there was nothing about his character which was fully explored. He is obviously greedy enough to risk everything he had to get himself involved in nefarious criminal activities despite everything he already had, but we do not see exactly why. So we end up not caring at all about him. We actually see other characters counsel him, than him counseling others.

Cameron Diaz's femme fatale character Malkina was unexpectedly well-developed. She is certainly no dumb blond bimbo here. Her scenes though were the most perplexing as to where she was coming from. She has a scene on the windshield of a luxury car that was as head-scratching as it was sensually acrobatic.

Javier Bardem is really very comfortable playing these cool criminal types. Penelope Cruz is too good to be true. I expected more out of these two actors and their characters than what ended up in the final edit we saw, which was disappointing.

I found the character of Brad Pitt the most interesting one of all. Every time Westray was on the screen, the story perks up and even the long conversations he has with the Counselor actually made sense. Too bad Pitt was only in about a third of the film or less.

"The Counselor" comes across as a slick action-filled crime caper film at first glance. However as you watch it, you will realize that it was actually mostly long-winded, unrealistically philosophical conversations and monologues from the most unlikely of characters. I think the main problem is the turgid and generally lifeless script which the talents of the director nor the actors could save. 4/10

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."