The Counsellor Review
Ridley Scott is used to high expectations, considering his second and third films were Alien and Blade Runner. Last year’s Prometheus was a disappointing hype train; every trailer garnered whooshes and YouTube approval, but earned an unfair backlash along the lines of: “But this isn’t Alien!” One year later, a similar pattern has emerged. The Counsellor boasts an original screenplay by celebrated American novelist Cormac McCarthy. The cast is a list of Hollywood’s most attractive and sought after A-listers: Michael Fassbender, Cameron Diaz, Penélope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt. (I half expected Ryan Gosling and Blake Lively as extras.) The story is also character-based, centering on existential themes and the philosophy of human greed. No 2D, no superheroes and not dumbed down. It can’t not be great, right? Well, The Counsellor, like Prometheus, is impressive visuals backed by a flat script. McCarthy’s first screenplay relegates the plot in importance, instead concentrating on the metaphorical behaviour of the starry ensemble: a human zoo confined to a city-noir habitat. Sadly, there’s little interest in any of these people, and the absence of notable story adds to the boredom. Fassbender is The Counsellor – his name is never revealed. That anonymity reflects his inscrutability. In an early scene, largely shot from under a bed cover, he proposes to his wife Laura (Cruz) with a diamond ring. To finance the gift and other lifestyle choices, he pokes his nose into a lucrative Mexican drug deal facilitated by Reiner (Bardem); both men converse with deep voices, maintaining the rhythm of poetry – but none of the substance. The drama is disinterested in the details of crime. Focus is repeatedly placed on the animalistic nature of gang ethos. Reiner’s girlfriend, Malkina (Diaz), has tattoos running down her back that emulate a cheetah. Her love affair with material goods extends to a surreal flashback where she informs Reiner, “I am going to fuck your car.” To a certain extent, she does, and it’s a bold move from Scott and McCarthy; the scene is preposterous, yet somehow fits in with the film’s cynical view of wealth. However, the metaphor is run into the ground several times, most notably when real cheetahs literally leap into the foreground. I’m not an expert on McCarthy’s novels and I wish I experienced The Counsellor without knowing he wrote the words. However, the dialogue flows unnaturally: sentences run on too long, and words jumble in their own self-importance. Conversations can run slower on the page; the eye reads words faster than actors can speak them (especially Bardem and Fassbender in this). I walked in expecting an evocative Ridley Scott film. I left having experienced a laboured Cormac McCarthy screenplay. Any mystery behind the characters isn’t suspenseful, but more a fault in the screenplay. Fassbender’s overdramatic tears echo Gosling’s role in this year’s Only God Forgives. Diaz is unable to speak McCarthy’s dialogue at a natural rhythm – her monologues sound like they’re read off cue cards, while also wildly stuck inside an exhausted femme fatale personality. Without more information and character insight, the emotional payoffs are unjustified.