I wish I could unsee The Counselor, but I can’t.
I have seen it. It is a part of me, rolling around my subconscious like a pebble trapped in a shoe. But that doesn’t mean you have to see it.
Where to begin on how awful this film is, on how many different and unique ways it goes wrong?
Let’s start with director Ridley Scott and his screenwriter Cormac McCarthy. (This is the Pulitzer Prize winning novelist’s first—and hopefully last—original screenplay.) How could two such talented gents have gone so far astray? This is the kind of film that makes you rethink the previous work of all parties involved. Maybe Gladiator wasn’t that good, after all. Is it possible that The Road deserves the “over-rated” chant? (And what of the 35 percent of critics on Rotten Tomatoes who actually liked this dreck? Is there any way I can formally file a petition to get their critics’ licenses revoked?)
So what’s the movie about? Uh, excellent question.
I think it’s about real men. Real men who make deals with the devil and pay the consequences. Real men who lie down with dogs and wake up with fleas. Real men who play with fire and get burned. (Okay, I think you get the point.) But in McCarthy’s world, you have to be man enough to take the burn (and the fleas). If not, you shouldn’t have played with the devil to begin with.
(I swear, that last paragraph was actually more sensical and enlightening than the film itself.)
It’s also about women. Dames. Broads. The secret catalysts of everything the above men do.
No, The Counselor doesn’t give a whit about these women—they are merely sources of sexual obsession. In this case, we have the “Madonna” (as played by a wide-eyed Penelope Cruz) and the “Whore” (as played by a car-straddling Cameron Diaz). If you are a good man who makes a deal with the devil, something unspeakably terrible might happen to the Madonna you are in love with. Most likely, it will be the Whore’s fault.
Michael Fassbender plays the titular character (he has no other name in the film) and he’s apparently in love with Cruz’s Laura. They have so little chemistry, one senses they met on a sound stage in Burbank a few hours earlier.
He has recently made a deal with sleazy drug kingpin Javier Bardem, doing another one of his “bad hairdo” performances. (Winning the Oscar for No Country For Old Men was the worst thing that could’ve happened to Bardem—much as I loved both the film and his performance—he now seems to think he needs to do broad, borderline caricature work to get our approval. I liked him better when he used to act.) Bardem is impossibly in love with Diaz’s Malkina. Even though he knows she’s the kind of bad woman who can ruin a guy.
Brad Pitt is also on hand, as a middle man between the Counselor and yet even more bad men. I think we’re supposed to find Pitt’s jaded, clear-eyed approach to the seedy world he occupies as heroic. Hard to say, but he does get the coolest send-off.
People don’t talk in The Counselor, they make metaphor-laden speeches. At one point, Fassbender goes to visit a jeweler, played by Bruno Ganz. Ganz makes a 10 minutes speech on the ineluctable beauty of diamonds (and women) and is never heard from again.
Characters don’t have inner lives: They have cool trappings. Bardem’s character, for example, has two pet cougars with giant diamond-studded collars. He also drives a Ferrari. I’d tell you what Cameron Diaz does to that Ferrari, but my mother reads this column.
The film is disorienting, pretentious, misogynistic. All posturing, no point. And yet, I confess, like the proverbial car wreck, I couldn’t look away.
When the film was over, I wanted to sit on the curb with a blanket over my shoulders drinking strong coffee as someone told me it was all going to be okay. Instead, I drove home and watched The Sound of Music over and over again on a loop. It didn’t let me unsee, but at least it helped.