Film review: The Counselor

The Counselor

(MA15+) *

Director: Ridley Scott.

Cast: Michael Fassbender, Javier Bardem, Cameron Diaz, Penelope Cruz, Brad Pitt.

JUST because you can write a novel doesn't mean you can write a screenplay.

Rarely is this idea more obvious than with The Counselor, author Cormac McCarthy's first feature film script.

It feels unfair to lay the blame for a bad film at the feet of just one person, but the vast majority of the flaws - in fact, maybe all the flaws within this pretentious drug-deal drama - appear to arise from the screenplay.

It's certainly not the fault of the cast. Fassbender, Bardem, Cruz, Pitt and Diaz are all usually dependable, no matter how thin the material, and they all acquit themselves reasonably well here (with the exception of Diaz, but we'll come to that).

And director Ridley Scott is certainly no slouch, but this must surely rank among his worst films, even worse than the unholy mess of Prometheus and his much-derided Russell Crowe comedy A Good Year.

McCarthy is a brilliant writer, as anyone who has read The Road or No Country For Old Men can attest, but what works on the page doesn't necessarily work on the screen. So where did he go so wrong?

The plot, as scant and scattershot as it is, follows a deal to bring a large amount of cocaine into the US from Mexico. When the cargo is stolen, retribution is sought against three of the people who organised the original deal - the nameless lawyer of the title (Fassbender), his rich and charismatic business partner (Bardem), and the casual cowboy middleman (Pitt).

Unfortunately the specific details of the plot, such as why the repercussions come back on these three and why the problem becomes so unfixable, are never adequately explained. A little mystery is good, but here things are so muddy as to become annoying. We are given no idea of the real roles these three play in the deal and why it would be on their heads - as a result, it makes the audience unable to fully comprehend the predicament the main characters are in.

The script also makes it hard to empathise with the characters due to the way they are drawn, which would ordinarily be okay, but you end up with a film about a bunch of people you don't like doing things you don't understand for reasons you don't care about.

No matter how much the talented cast tries, they can't dig their way out of the mire of allegories, riddles, metaphors, non sequiturs, and faux philosophy that makes up the dialogue. No one in this film talks like a real person.

Pitt and Fassbender probably get the best deal, but you have to feel sorry for Diaz. Her character is supposed to be a dangerous and wild, but every lines clunks out of her mouth like a lead weight, thudding to the floor.

The dialogue is dire from the very start, where a supposedly sexy moment between Fassbender and Cruz's characters just feels awkward. An entire cameo from Ruben Blades is complete jibberish. Whole sections just leave wondering "what just happened?".

When you add all these things together it's a complete mis-fire. It's okay to have weighty, unrealistic dialogue, it's okay to leave certain plot elements unclear, and it's okay to feature a lot of unlikeable/unknowable anti-heroes, but when you put them all together, it's a mess.

There are some slight redeeming features amid the frustrating boredom - Pitt is charismatic, the film looks good, there are some memorable grisly sequences, and the overarching themes about the free will involved in greed and "sin" is sporadically intriguing.

But overall The Counselor is a dud that, like Gangster Squad, could become a by-word for a bad film that wastes an exceptionally talented cast and crew.

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