October 31, 2013

Thrills in 'Counselor' hard to find


---- — A Pulitzer Prize-winning author, a three-time Oscar-nominated director and a cast of talented actors seems like a cinematic dream team.

That makes “The Counselor” more than just a dull and pretentious mess. It makes the film a huge disappointment as well.

Directed by Ridley Scott, “The Counselor” is a would-be sexy thriller about a drug deal gone wrong. The thrills, though, are hard to find, and the sexy parts are more cringe-worthy than erotic.

Michael Fassbender stars as a defense lawyer with questionable ethics, who opts to make a big score by helping a shady friend fund an operation running drugs from Mexico across the border to Texas.

Penelope Cruz is the devoted girlfriend. Javier Bardem is the playboy buddy. Brad Pitt is a mysterious, philosophical middle man. Cameron Diaz is Bardem’s Cheetah-loving, gold-toothed man-eating girlfriend.

It’s a charismatic, big-name cast, but they are completely wasted by the screenplay, the first ever written by 80-year-old Cormac McCarthy.

McCarthy is a very important and gifted novelist (“The Road,” “No Country For Old Men”), but his script is confused and confusing. There’s hardly any plot, and his characters pontificate and talk like, well, characters in a novel, not anything like actual human beings.

Fassbender tries hard as the nameless pawn at the center of the story, but his character isn’t very likable or sympathetic, even when his life begins to crumble. He tells us he loves Cruz’s Laura desperately, but we never really feel it.

Diaz puts a lot of energy into playing the film’s bad girl, but the character too often seems a parody, with spotted tattoos, and did I mention cheetahs?

I can only imagine that when these very fine actors took a look at McCarthy’s much-anticipated script, it was an Emperor’s New Clothes situation:

“So, uh, it makes total, total sense to me. How about you?”

“Er, um, sure, it’s a work of pure genius. Can’t believe that guy did that thing in that scene.”

“Yes, we’re all going to get awards for this!”

“The Counselor” has a few bizarre moments (not including Bardem’s hair), but really there’s nothing here worth sitting through. It goes nowhere with characters no one cares about.

Queue up a few episodes of “Breaking Bad” if you really want to see a drug deal go wrong in entertaining fashion.

Rental Recommendation: Cormac McCarthy’s book, “The Road,” is a bleak masterpiece, and the movie version — which he did not script — does it justice. Just don’t watch it twice, or you’ll need counseling. Grade: A.

Email Steve


The Counselor

Grade: C-

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Cameron Diaz

Rated: R (for graphic violence, some grisly images, strong sexual content and language)

Running time: 117 minutes