Release Date: 15th November 2013
Running Time: 118 minutes
Director: Ridley Scott
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Cameron Diaz, Brad Pitt
Cormac McCarthy. Ridley Scott. Fassbender, Bardem, Cruz, Pitt and Diaz. The Counsellor has got to be great. Right guys? Unfortunately, despite (or perhaps because of) its pedigree, it’s a total dog’s dinner.
The Counsellor charts the downfall of a corrupt lawyer (Fassbender) when his deal with a South American drug cartel goes.. well, South. It’s a film which essentially consists of Michael Fassbender meeting up with a famous actor, having them monologue at him for a while, then moving onto the next actor. Every scene in the film could (and probably will) be used as an audition piece for actors who want to show their verbosity. Stuffed with faux-profound statements which explore the themes and symbolism in the story, the dialogue in this film is seriously overwritten and while there is stark poetry in McCarthy’s words (I imagine it reading very well), it doesn’t gel with the grammar of film. There is more to writing a screenplay than just pretty speeches, unfortunately McCarthy hasn’t quite grasped that yet.
When characters aren’t intoning on the nature of evil, or the nature of greed, or the nature of humanity they proffer some analysis on the nature of women. Which is apparently that they are fickle, capricious and sly. Much of this is perhaps macho posturing on the part of the characters – scary men in a scary world – but the manner in which the film treats its female characters is not much better. In this world women stick rigidly to the Whore/Madonna binary; they are either vampish femme fatales or innocent maidens untainted by the horror and corruption that surrounds them. It’s one thing for the male characters in the film to claim that women behave this way but quite another entirely to have the female characters meet these expectations. It’s crass and unpleasant and leaves a nasty taste in the mouth. Still, Diaz and Cruz have a brief conversation about jewellery so any Swedes concerned whether The Counsellor passes the Bechdel Test can rest easy. Anyone who cares about the representation of women and not how often they chat about frivolities should be a bit more concerned.
With a script full of audition monologues written by a Pulitzer prize winning author, it is no surprise to see that The Counsellor managed to attract an all-star cast. Almost everyone in this film is a recognisable actor, to the point where you start scanning the extras in the background to see if there are any familiar faces. However, the cast all bring so many strange idiosyncrasies to their characters that it seems like they’re all trying to outdo each other. Brad Pitt has a cowboy hat and a high-pitched girlish giggle? Well, Javier Bardem has mad hair and is constantly wearing silly sunglasses. When you factor the overwritten dialogue into these scenes the whole thing seems like a self-indulgent joke at the audience’s expense. Scott’s direction is solid enough and a couple of well staged (and crucially wordless) sequences save the film from teetering off into a total fiasco but The Counsellor is bad in almost every other way. The prosecution rests.