Despite a script by a Pulitzer Prize winner, a terrific ensemble cast and director Ridley Scott at the helm, 'The Counselor' is leaden, murky and hard to follow.
Never did drug lords, thugs and cowboys wax as philosophically as they do in The Counselor (*½ out of four, rated R, opens Friday nationwide).
It certainly doesn't make them in any way believable. Nor does it make them any more intriguing to watch. Everyone's speech is awash in gaudy psycho-blather and Yoda-like observations.
The phony eloquence doesn't make the obfuscated and tedious story any clearer or more compelling.
The screenplay, the first by Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Cormac McCarthy, sounds far more ornate than spoken dialogue would — especially in this crime thriller milieu. It's hard to imagine perps and their victims would take the time to offer homilies and wise counsel as they pull off drug deals or run for their lives.
McCarthy is a wonderful fiction writer — his spare prose in the masterful novel The Road is stunningly evocative. If only what came out of characters' mouths here had been a bit more spare.
And it's not just the dialogue that's inane. The wannabe suspenseful story itself does not do justice to the talented cast caught in its convoluted web.
The overwritten script and the ridiculous plot combine to make The Counselor a frustrating experience.
The well-edited trailer makes it look much more exciting, taut and captivating than it is. The actual movie is a casually violent and pretentious slog. Perhaps director Ridley Scott should have turned over the reins to whoever edited the trailer.
All the perplexing commentary is meant to create an increasingly tense, foreboding situation. But mostly it serves to distance the viewer from the far-fetched story of a respectable lawyer, referred to only as "The Counselor" (Michael Fassbender). His one-time foray into illegal business draws him into a nightmarish scenario involving international drug traffickers, a courier who takes risks on a motorcycle, some pretty graphic torture devices and a pair of haughty, jewel-collared cheetahs.
On the plus side, the Counselor has a pretty and supportive girlfriend named Laura (Penelope Cruz). But we sense early on that no matter if he's a great lover (as we glean from the aurally graphic first scene) and his intentions are true, the Counselor will only bring pain to Laura.
Cruz's role is a thankless one that could have gone to any number of lesser actors.
Brad Pitt, as Westray — a bad guy in a white hat — pops by occasionally to advise The Counselor in abstruse ways. We get it. Bad goings-on are afoot. It's only a matter of time. If only we cared.
The Counselor's dealings with Reiner, a flashily dressed Javier Bardem, are meant to be ominous. But mostly they're just perplexing. Reiner is a malevolent presence, but his wry sense of humor makes him see more clownish than evil. His rich but tacky girlfriend Malkina (Cameron Diaz) lacks Reiner's wit. (Reiner's digression about her unusual sexual proclivities is off-putting, mystifying the audience as much as it does the Counselor.) She's a narcissistic sociopath with a dated haircut and two-toned dye job.
And speaking of hair, one of the film's highlights is Bardem in yet another terrible coif. It looks like someone styled his hair with an egg beater. Ever since his awful bowl haircut in No Country for Old Men, the Spanish actor seems determined to ensure that his characters sport the worst 'dos imaginable. His role in the last Bond movie featured another hideous style, bleached blond. If anyone ever makes a movie called Bad Hair Day, Bardem's the obvious star.
Come to think of it, sitting through that movie would be time better spent than a session with The Counselor.