Quick, take a gang of top-of-their-game actors, all playing slightly odd, violent, and fascinating characters. Have the film directed by a critically acclaimed director. Oh, and throw in a long opening credit sequence with ironically upbeat music, and a plot that’s twice as convoluted as its needs to be. And for the poster: have all the famous actors feature prominently with nothing else to indicate the plot. Which movie am I talking about? It seems to be a hit-or-miss trend, so will The Counselor, directed by Ridley Scott, convince or disappoint?
The Counselor – the character – is played by Michael Fassbender. He’s a lawyer who has decided to dabble in drug smuggling. He “teams” up with Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt and Cameron Diaz. If that’s not enough star-power for you, the film throws in Penelope Cruz as Fassbender’s love interest.
I don’t mean to tease too much, of course, since good actors coming together for projects should always be a happy occasion. And Fassbender truly nails the role as the suave Counselor. Brad Pitt continues his new career as a quirky, violent yet lovably criminal, and Diaz really makes you dislike her as the incredibly bitchy and over-sexualized lover of Bardem’s character.
They are all original – to a point – but for me none of them break into fully three-dimensional characters. If you’re not taken in by them from the get go, you will be bored very quickly. Maybe the problem is too many characters, not enough screentime? Nope, they all get long conversations to flesh out their personalities. Very long conversations. Conversations that don’t actually go anywhere. I don’t think any of them are pretentious, but after a certain number of life-lessons and metaphors, the film really needs to stop talking and start showing us something. Several scenes could have been excluded entirely without any change to our perception or the plot. Very early on, all the characters are established: Diaz’ is creepy, Bardem’s is pathetic, Brad Pitt is Brad Pitt, and the Counselor himself is smart, but unfortunately in love. Every scene after this is harping on these same points, and the extra philosophical or moral musings fall flat.
With movies like this, the plot is often just as important, so maybe this is where The Counselor shines. If you believe the trailer, we have been promised an action packed ride full of gritty violence. We are dealing with very scary cartel people here, right? But again, the conversations take their sweet time in “alluding” to the action that happen off-screen. When we finally get to confirm what we’ve already guessed, the film isn’t interested. The Counselor is really scared of these guys, and admittedly Fassbender plays this very well, but the audience never feels that fear. All those actions scenes in the trailer are just that: ALL the action scenes.
The Counselor seems like it wants to do one thing, but its editing tells a different story. From the poster, trailer and 90% of the individual scenes, it wants to be a character-focused movie, but we never really get to grips with the characters. They are not interesting. They don’t feel alive, or they feel like parodies of these types of characters. The editing would have you believe its the plot that needs our attention, but it is also uninteresting, predictable, and unfortunately gets lost in the conversations.
Maybe The Counselor works better on the second viewing. I for one was really disappointed. I am a big fan of everyone involved – Ridley Scott especially. It should not have been possible for this not to succeed. The film simply fails to entertain or engage, and by the end it had managed to piss me off. I was rooting for this movie, and that massive disappointment led me to give it a dice roll 2.