The Counselor

Posted October 24, 2013 by in


Total Score

1/ 5

Quick Stats

Genre: drama
Director: Ridley Scott
MPAA Rating: R
Actors: Michael Fassbender, Javier Bardem, Cameron Diaz, Brad Pitt, Penélope Cruz,
Length: 117 minutes
Release Date: 10/25/2013
Studio: Chockstone Pictures, Kanzaman (Spain), Nick Wechsler Productions, Scott Free Productions, Translux
What We Thought

Storytelling takes backseat to sermonizing in Cormac McCarthy’s screenplay.

by Daniel Hodgson
Full Article
Somehow, I expected more from The Counselor, considering it’s written by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Road and No Country for Old Men, Cormac McCarthy.  A lot more.
     The Counselor is about The Lawyer With No Name (Michael Fassbender), who is somehow involved with a 20 million dollar drug deal.  He doesn’t manufacture, transport, or distribute the product, so his role in the matter is vague.  He asks his partner Westray (Brad Pitt, dressed in Cowboy duds) what’s to be done with the cash, so perhaps he handles the money laundering aspect, but I’m only speculating here.
     The Lawyer With No Name is in love with Laura (Penelope Cruz), a devout Catholic who’s too shy to ask for what she wants in bed in explicit terms.  Beyond that, we don’t learn much about her (or anyone else, for that matter).  The Lawyer With No Name buys a pricey rock for her and pops the question.  She says yes, and the movie jumps from their proposal to his calling her “my wife” in later scenes.  Their wedding either ended up on the cutting room floor, or was never written in the first place.
     Then for at least 30 minutes, nothing happens—at least, nothing that pushes the story anywhere.  The Lawyer With No Name’s business partner Reiner (Javier Bardem) relates a strange sexual experience to him, in which his significant other, Malkina (Cameron Diaz), makes love to his car—not in it or on it, but directly to it.  Another scene is devoted to Malkina’s attempt to confess the experience to a priest (Édgar Ramírez), who won’t hear it.  Additionally, The Lawyer With No Name and Reiner work on opening a night club together, which also has no bearing on the plot.
     After spending the first act spinning its wheels, the movie eventually remembers it has something to do with a drug deal.  The Lawyer With No Name visits Ruth (Rosie Perez), a client of his, in prison.  Ruth asks him to spring her son (Richard Cabral) from jail on a speeding ticket.  He says he’ll do it.  Not that The Counselor shows him doing so, though; we eventually see the young man on the highway speeding on his motorcycle again.  Get used to it; even the climax is implied rather than shown.
     The young man, however, happens to be involved in the drug deal himself, and is soon murdered by anonymous goons.  Consequently, the drugs go missing, and the investors blame The Lawyer With No Name, Westray and Reiner for the fuck-up, and will go after them and the people they love.  That means Laurie is in immediate danger (you know, the woman we barely know or care about).  The Lawyer With No Brain tells her to meet him at home, the first place the investors are going to be looking for them.  Brilliant.
     It’s not spoiling anything to say that Malkina, the “automobile enthusiast” herself, is behind the whole thing; it’s revealed early on (too early, really), and comes as no surprise.  Why she has her own goons murdered, I don’t know.  Why she uses a honeypot (Natalie Dormer) to get Westray’s personal information to access his computer, I also don’t know.  Tied with The Grandmaster, this is the murkiest storytelling this year.
     That’s a disappointment, considering its screenwriter.  McCarthy’s characters in The Counselor muse endlessly on the nature of love, the nature of truth, etc. in long, rambling monologues.  There is a lot less interest in here, though, in the nature of storytelling.
     Movies are no country for passive men.  The Lawyer With No Name does almost nothing other than make a couple of phone calls, and lament his fate.  The point of the movie is The Lawyer’s helplessness in a criminal underworld he should never have gotten mixed up in, but damn it, stories need someone to make things happen.
     In this story, that someone would be Malkina, at least potentially.  The plot is the result of her machinations, as she’s the one after the drug shipment.  However, she uses proxies, nameless grunts to do her dirty work.  There is a division of labor in The Counselor between talkers and doers, when characters should be both.  Compare this to the film version of No Country for Old Men, where Chigurh and Llewelyn, both men of action, face off directly.  As a villain, Malkina is no Chigurh, and on that note, Cameron Diaz is no Javier Bardem.
     As far as its housekeeping goes, The Counselor is a mess.  Characters either leave early in the story—such as a former client who shows up to taunt the Lawyer and then is never seen again—or are introduced late and then dispensed with just as quickly.  Too often, they spell out the film’s ideas, and as such, are in service to the story’s theme rather than its drama.  The Diamond Dealer (Bruno Ganz) and Jefe (Rubén Blades) are two characters both guilty of this, and the way that their mutual function is to advise The Lawyer, it’s a wonder they’re not consolidated into a single character.  Forget The Counselor, call him The Counseled.
     As much as I hated last year’s Savages, another cautionary tale about the drug trade, at least its lunkheads went after the cartel, instead of sitting around and crying about their predicament.  Not that I hated The Counselor.  I was too bored to hate it.  Much too bored.

About the Author

Daniel Hodgson

Daniel has a degree in film from the University of Texas at Austin, and writes about himself in the third-person, because that's the fashion.


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