The Counsellor review

After having four of his novels adapted into films, McCarthy – at the ripe old age of 80 – opted to try his hand at screenwriting. For a man who has achieved so much in the world of literature, the decision to make this transition was probably an easy one. McCarthy, in his brilliantly macabre novels, constantly broke the rules of literature, but still managed to tell a good story, writing beautiful narratives no matter how violent and terrifying.

His script for The Counsellor seems like an attempt to broaden his own vision, but sadly, it doesn't quite work. Fassbender stars as a big-shot lawyer (only ever referred to as The Counsellor) who finds himself involved in the drug trafficking business after Reiner (Bardem), a tacky drug baron who fancies himself the Tony Montana of Texas, offers him a vaguely-defined job. Bardem’s female cohort is a feisty cheetah-obsessed blonde called Malkina (Diaz). Spurred on by the love of a beautiful woman (Cruz) and a yearning to maintain his flashy lifestyle, The Counsellor fails to take into account the consequences of his decisions.

The Counsellor almost seems like a spoof. The whole film borders on caricature, so incessantly brutal that it almost becomes a dark comedy. There are many aspects of the film that would work really well in a novel, bits of dialogue that sound awkward to the ear but would no doubt seem profound and meaningful on paper. Some of the scenes feel like they were thrown in to pad out the film, and at times it almost feels like we are watching one of those DVDs from the early 2000s that gave you the option to watch the film with the deleted scenes put back in. And it plods along in this way for just shy of two hours: person meets someone in Texas, someone meets someone else... in Mexico! Oh now they're in Idaho, that's cool, we don't get to see Idaho in films very oft- ... nope, now they're in London. Why does nobody have jetlag?

It's not entirely without merit. Daniel Pemberton's score is excellent, and makes certain scenes seem more powerful than they actually are. Most of the actors do the best they can with a clunky script that only occasionally challenges them. Bardem struggles at times with the unique way McCarthey structures his sentences and Cameron Diaz flicks between accents like Kelly and Jack Osbourne circa 2002, which tarnishes an otherwise decent performance. The film's middleman is a Larry Hagman wannabe named Westray (Pitt), who tries to be the voice of reason. This is the third time Pitt and Fassbender have worked together, and it shows. Their combined charisma makes the few scenes they share together more engaging than anything else in the film.

Fassbender is a very reliable actor, but he isn't really given a lot to work with here. His character is difficult to sympathise with, and never truly proves himself worthy enough of being the film's main character, let alone having it named after him.

The Counsellor at IMDb

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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