- Released Internationally on 25/10/13
- Released in Malta by KRS on 15/11/13
3-word review: What a waste.
It is unfortunate when the collaboration between numerous talented people turns out to be quite a mess. This is one of those instances. Ridley Scott isn’t very consistent, but for over three decades now he has been directing films from a wide range of genres, many of which turn out to be hugely successful and established as classics. Cormac McCarthy, an American novelist, has a very particular style which makes it hard to put his books down. His fame soared recently thanks to the excellent adaptations of two of his best novels - No Country For Old Men and The Road. This is his first attempt at writing a screenplay. Cast-wise, Brad Pitt, Penélope Cruz, Michael Fassbender, Cameron Diaz and Javier Bardem hardly need any introduction. Yet, despite all these big names drawing you in and raising your expectations, there is a distinct feeling of ‘so what?’ by the time the credits roll.
No ordinary world
The technical aspects are fine, as expected. Everything looks great, from the tantalisingly sexy intro to the bleached look of the scenes in the Mexican desert. The film is set in a world of sharp contrasts - where the filthy-rich owners of pet cheetahs share business dealings with the filthy and crazy world of drug cartels. Michael Fassbender’s clean cut lawyer is new to this underworld, and he hopes to make just a quick visit, for one big-paying job. His crazy client (Javier Bardem) sets it up, but he warns him that it’s hard to not get sucked in. Brad Pitt is the wise, mysterious advisor who has seen it all and is trying to get out while he can. Cameron Diaz is the client’s sexy but dangerous girlfriend. The only seemingly normal person, and presumably the one the audience should try to relate to, is the lawyer’s girlfriend, played with wide-eyed innocence by Penélope Cruz.
Things plod along fairly slowly, but at least it is to McCarthy’s credit that the dialogue is lyrical and attention-grabbing. But the rather thin plot takes much too long to develop, and things rarely get exciting or moving in any way. A few key sequences stand out as vivid ideas that the author might have dreamt up, but they serve little purpose except to allow some character to describe them in disgusting detail. It’s as if he thought of a couple of ways to kill a person, and a couple of fascinating anecdotes, and built a film around them. They make for a few memorable scenes, but not for a good film. Some of the resulting episodes are not for the squeamish, although the most disturbing stuff happens off screen, which makes it all the more effective.
In the end
The word ‘cautionary’ comes up as the counsellor is warned about the dangers of what he is getting himself into, and ultimately that is what The Counsellor is - a cautionary tale. I imagine it would have made for an interesting book, but in heading straight for the screen is has ended up as rather dry and uneventful. There are many slow-paced, deliberate and observational films that I have loved over the years, but this is definitely not one of them. I predict that a couple of sequences will stick around in my memory, but the rest is a forgettable missed opportunity.