The Counselor (2013)

Untitled-1There is an uneasiness in The Counselor’s opening scene that continues throughout the rest of the movie. We’re in Juarez, Mexico. Michael Fassbender and Penelope Cruz are flirting and foreplaying under white sheets. Some of their words are muffled, some of them are about sex. Actually most of them are about sex. What I’d like you to do to me, what I’d like to do to you, etc. Fassbender slides his hand between Cruz’s legs. And then his face follows. She squeals in delight. The mystery of this scene is that it fails to be sexy or arousing. It makes us feel uncomfortable, almost as if we’re watching a porn video between siblings who don’t know they’re siblings.

The entire movie is uncomfortable, but not in the same way as this opening scene — it is uncomfortable with itself. It doesn’t know what it wants or what it’s meant to deliver. It’s not a confused movie though. It knows where it will end up, but for the oddest reasons it completely loses itself on the way. The plot has something to do with a busted drug deal between greedy Texans and dangerous Mexicans, but I can’t tell for sure because many details are lost in translation. All I know is that there’s a lawyer known only as The Counselor. He’s the Fassbender character. There’s his partner in crime Westray, played by Brad Pitt. And there’s the Javier Bardem character, Reiner, whose ethnic background is never revealed. He can’t be Mexican though, unless his full name is Reineriago Hernandez.

To explain these characters and their relationships to the plot would be exhausting. Reiner, in particular, has no relevance. He is, more than anything, a chance for Bardem to once again have a hairstyle that identifies the character. He is a tycoon of sorts — he owns a massive villa that sits on a slope and overlooks gorgeous scenery, his car collection is extravagant, and he runs a delivery company as well as an upscale restaurant. He’s also in love with a sociopathic madwoman named Malkina (Cameron Diaz), whose mannerisms and make up make her eerily similar to the Kristin Scott Thomas character in Only God Forgives. She also simulates sex with the windshield of one of Reiner’s Ferrari’s. That’s right. You heard me. Sex with a windshield.

Malkina is instrumental to the plot, though I shouldn’t reveal her exact purpose. In some ways, she is the movie’s most important character, which is kinda sad considering she’s the least interesting. I make this reference loosely of course, because none of the characters are interesting, and none of them are relatable. Ridley Scott, who has always been held in high regard but has never remained consistent, chooses instead to focus on the visualisation of a corrupt world. His movie is undeniably beautiful. Its shots are memorable, and it evokes a lavish world that could have been desirable had it been populated by characters who actually desired it.

The script is written by Cormac McCarthy, his first original screenplay, and its skeleton is not unlike the skeleton of “No Country For Old Men”. The vital difference between the two stories is that “No Country” doesn’t bog itself down with pretentious dialogue and unnecessarily prophetic monologues. It also doesn’t plague itself by having too many supporting characters that do more hampering than supporting. There is a scene where The Counselor rings up a series of old acquaintances and asks them for help. One of them is in the middle of a snooker game, and after he adjourns to a more personal room, he begins blabbering about nonsensical life lessons that do neither The Counselor nor us any favours. The Counselor would have had more success calling Dominos.

And it’s this kind of progression that slows the movie down, almost to a standstill. For much of its opening forty-five minutes, we are lost as we’re zipped from Texas, to Mexico, to the Texas-Mexico border in scenes that are so disjointed they need immediate chiropractic attention. The characters admit that they are greedy. 20 million is a lot of money. But greed is hardly a sympathetic trait, and maybe McCarthy didn’t plan for his characters to be sympathetic. But what good is all that if a decapitating device turns out to be more engaging than the person it’s decapitating?

Best Moment | Nope.

Worst Moment | Hmm. Many of Diaz’s scenes are vapid. Also, that snooker scene I mentioned is one of the movie’s more empty moments.

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