‘The Counselor’ is stylish but won’t bear thinking about later

By Gary Clift

“The Counselor” is a stylish movie, seasoned with a little sex and a little violence, and featuring a couple of interesting acting jobs. But the movie isn’t enough fun to watch. And it won’t bear thinking about once the watching is over.

The film was directed by Ridley Scott. He has made some wonderful movies—”Alien,” ”Blade Runner,” “Thelma and Louise,” “Black Hawk Down,” “Matchstick Men”—and he has made some indifferent ones. Here he was working from a script by American novelist Cormac McCarthy, whose books All the Pretty Horses and No Country for Old Men have been made into movies.

Its the script that’s the trouble in “The Counselor.” McCarthy has not recognized differences between necessary practical details and unnecessary introductions of secondary characters. The viewer frequently wonders how or why something happened, and while they are wondering they aren’t following the events on screen.

Then there’s the dialog problem. Apparently McCarthy thinks he has wisdom to impart. So he writes self-underscoring lines like, “I don’t think I miss things.” Viewers note these comments, expecting them to pay off later in the film, if only to explain actions taken by individual characters. But the comments are never referred to again. Why is it important that Penelope Cruz’s character doesn’t think she misses things? Beats me, daddy.

The story seems to be much more complicated than it actually is. Three El Paso residents are involved somehow—whether as investors or organizers I was never sure—in a cocaine smuggling scheme. Their partners are scary outlaws.

Their shipment is high-jacked when someone kills a young man the title character (played by Michael Fassbender) has bailed out of jail. The fellow is carrying an electronic key to the smuggler’s vehicle. Here I had several questions, none of which the movie answered. Anyway, the outlaws figure the three friends have ordered the high-jacking.

The first little pig stays home and is shot and killed. The second little pig is offed in an imaginative but also utterly ridiculous way as he hides in a foreign city. Look out, third pig!

But there’s a second line of plot here. Pig one (Javier Bardeem with spiked hair) has a cynical girlfriend. Malkina is played by Cameron Diaz, who is at the skanky and the cruel end of her range here. She owns a couple of cheetahs and has cheetah spots tattooed on her back.

Malkina is spying on the three pigs. We learn later that she has had the rich one of the three followed and his computer password stolen so that when she has him killed she can take his money. She may also have arranged the first or second high-jacking of the cocaine truck—it is swiped twice. And she seems to have been responsible for suggesting that the pigs were robbing the outlaws.

That, lacking only the last pigs remorse that his fiance (once called his wife) has been involved in all this, is about the whole story. What does it mean? It means that you should miss some cinematic things. And by that I mean you should miss seeing this movie.

Brad Pitt, playing one of the pigs, has something close to a new character, and most of the difference is represented by his posture and the way he holds his head. Then, too, the settings have a lot of snap to them, in part because they are contemporary but unfamiliar. And Fassbender, Bardeem, Cruz, and Pitt do decent jobs of giving us characters we don’t hate and feel a little sorry for.

This makes for some suspense at the end of the film as the largely unseen outlaws come looking for those they blame for the loss (perhaps temporary—this isn’t clear) of their drugs. So “The Counselor” does make viewers feel bad toward the end.

This isn’t enough. The denouement lingers too long. The gadget weapon used on one of the pigs is silly. One is never really sure who has the drugs or why the death of Fassbender’s client should suggest he and his partners took the drugs in the first place. Or what the electronic key is. Or why Fassbender has to go to Amsterdam to buy a diamond. Or anything much. All of which makes nonsense of McCarthy’s quasi-profound dialog, which keeps suggesting there is an underlying method being used here.

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