Rated: R or graphic violence, som grisly images, strong sexual content and language. Reviewed by: Jim Release date: October 25, 2013 Released by: Twentieth Century Fox
Ridley Scott's new crime drama (dedicated to late brother Tony which affected its filming) is convoluted but not in a darkly exciting way as its advertising with whiplash editing (clearly vague on the storyline) promises.
The Counselor has a high-powered, very good-looking cast which includes Michael Fassbender, Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Cameron Diaz, and Brad Pitt. It definitely unleashes a certain striking aura with the director's customary craftsmanship, here with a sunny lushness about it.
The director of Prometheus has his android in Fassbender back as an unnamed eponymous character, upstanding but caught up in a growing web of avarice through a drug deal (destined to go wrong) in a variety of places mostly along the Texas/Mexico border (though shot in Spain and Great Britain).
The problem is the connection from page to screen with Cormac McCarthy (All The Pretty Horses, The Road, No Country For Old Men) offering his first original screenplay to someone use to handling big studio fare. The connective tissue from the estimable author isn't there for Scott to make the scenes as riveting as what's been released in paperback.
Fassbender (who plays the wicked Epps in the significant 12 Years a Slave) projects an unenviable aching to what unfolds as an inscrutable morality tale. Cruz looks really voluptuous as exquisite fiancee Laura whether in a red dress or a towel. Bardem's wildly coiffed Reiner is the unctuous nightclub owner with Diaz's malevolently meddling high-maintenance mistress Malkina sporting cheetah tattoos. And, Pitt's Westray cowboy attire, complete with white hat is the Counselor's connection to a cartel (maybe like the one in Oliver Stone's Savages) whose scary business includes large amounts of cocaine.
The brutally dark cynicism and even wit that McCarthy has had adapted on screen is missing this time around as one might wonder what was omitted or perhaps left on the cutting room floor. Clearly Scott went through his share of post-production work perhaps in a rush to meet studio demands. The ensemble cast looks to revel in what isn't gripping entertainment, even the reliable Bruno Ganz (Unknown) who is the Amsterdam connection for diamond engagement ring for Laura. And, collared cheetahs to add volatility to progressively difficult circumstances.
The line readings like "truth doesn't have a temperature" is distinctive but hardly fascinating prose as some may be more content with the imagination to strangle or decapitate. A slinky Diaz (in for Angelina Jolie) is far less sweet than Laura as Malkina oozes her own brand of passion whether on a windshield or at church for "confession." Her character is less interesting or not shaded like Reiner and Westray with Bardem and Pitt a better fit for this kind of underworld.
The Counselor is unable to rev up with a kind of shady allegorical panache as costume designer Giorgio Armani (American Gigolo) does more with the tony than the unsuccessful pairing of Scott and McCarthy. Perhaps they needed more counseling than atmospheric backdrops, even a middleman.