Films based on the novels of Cormac McCarthy such as The Road and No Country for Old Men are bleak affairs; uninviting landscapes populated by desperate characters embroiled in situations of their creation but now beyond their control. If any of McCarthy’s characters have one thing in common it’s the need to survive and by any means possible. In this world there is only one solution to any given problem; kill it.
The Counselor is the author’s first screenplay bypassing the novel, and despite the differing landscapes of previous works his new story paints an equally bleak picture populated by equally desperate characters. It’s not an altogether fun ride, and it really doesn’t make sense. But at least in the hands of director Ridley Scott, everything looks good. The cinematography has a continual well framed and sun-kissed, unblemished look to most of it you’d swear the director had personally polished the canvas to a glossy sheen before the screening.
Michael Fassbender plays the title character, a man whose real name is never given. He’s simply the counselor, a lawyer who through his desire for easier money finds himself caught in a situation that’s hard to describe for the simple fact that we’re never quite sure what it is that’s he’s agreed to. From the disjointed scenes that rarely connect it’s never fully clear what the real problem is, all we really know is that the man has suddenly surrounded himself with truly shady characters and they’re all about to turn on him.
The vagueness of everything becomes apparent early on when characters that initially seemed important simply disappear, a trend that continues throughout the film. With the exception of Laura (Penelope Cruz) everyone else we get to know are unlikable creatures with little redeemable qualities whose sole ambition is their own self preservation.
McCarthy’s mannered dialog has all his people talking in unnatural rhythms that are more monologs than conversations. They wax philosophically as if experts on the human condition, when in fact they’re actually clueless on the realities of what should really make the world go round.
“Life is being in bed with you,” the lawyer tells his girlfriend. “Everything else is just waiting.” When Brad Pitt as some kind of middleman in the affair tells the lawyer that, “You don’t know someone until you know what they want,” you start to realize that what might sound profound is really a severe case of running at the mouth, and they all have it. The best quote comes from Cameron Diaz as a ruthless schemer who when told that her opinion on something is a bit cold responds with, “I think truth has no temperature.”
Javier Bardem, whose hairstyle in McCarthy’s earlier No Country for Old Men raised a few eyebrows, sports an equally bizarre do in The Counselor. The spiky, reaching-for-the-sky look is described as an ode to Ron Howard’s long time producer Brian Grazer, a style that appears to be that of a man who once had the scare of his life and can’t shake it off. Plus his dialog waxes equally as philosophically as everyone else. “The truth is you can do anything to a woman,” he advises, “Except bore them.”
When Bardem relates a bizarre incident to the counselor regarding an evening when the Carmeron Diaz character had sex with his sports car – a scene that, like many, has no apparent connection to anything else, but it’s there all the same – he tells the lawyer that, “You see a thing like that, it changes you.” All the lawyer can say in return is, “I don’t know what it is you’re trying to tell me.” It’s the only relatable line in the movie. We’re all left equally clueless.
MPAA Rating: R Length: 116 Minutes Overall Rating: 4 (out of 10)