Film review of ‘The Counselor’: Ridley Scott loses the plot. Counselling anybody?

What is this shit? – to reference an old Rolling Stone review. High as my expectations may have been – which of course they should be when the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Cormac McCarthy wrote the script, and Ridley Scott directs – I was terribly let down by this self-important, poorly acted, brazen and verbose effort.

Not one character feels real, and every line of dialogue, including the few cool ones, falls dead from the A-listers’ beautiful lips.

“It is our faintness of heart that drives us to the edge of ruin … Nothing is crueller than cowardice,” lectures Diaz’s evil, bizarrely polysexual vamp in a late scene, looking like someone suddenly realising she forgot to inquire what this gobbledygook was supposed to mean.

The film is reminiscent of Oliver Stone’s recent film Savages – both are lushly shot close-ups of the Tex-Mex drug wars and both intersperse unrealistic set-pieces of gut-wrenching violence to keep us from nodding asleep.

McCarthy, whose neo-Western No Country for Old Men proved Oscar-grabbing material for the Coen Brothers in 2007, throws a horrifying, 007-ish decapitation device into his inadequately narrated yarn – and you ask yourself how is this weapon handier than a gun.

If you loved No Country, in other words, steer clear of The Counselor, which wants to wring mileage out of all the less satisfactory elements of the former. Don’t be fooled by the fact that Bardem and McCarthy are involved in both.

Fassbender, the better of the leading luminaries here, deserves praise for how well he does ‘desperate-to-the-point-of-tears’. In the eponymous role he reprises some remarkable crying chops honed in Steven McQueen’s Shame. Why is he crying? Because of a lesson he has to learn which, spread thin, supplies our central story: good guy gets greedy, seeks dirty money, finds he should have kept his day-job.

It could have worked. But McCarthy is a poor screenwriter, for one thing. Stiff, contrived and gratuitously ‘masculine’ (although pretty great-looking), it takes more than five mega-stars and a seasoned director to save this Titanic.

 

The Counselor (15)

Dir: Ridley Scott; US action, 2013, 111 mins; Michael Fassbender, Penélope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt, Natalie Dormer, Bruno Ganz

Premiered November 14 

Playing nationwide