Imagine that you are a cook. In fact, you are an excellent cook. You've spent the whole day cooking delicious meals of many different cuisines. By the end of the day you are left with various ingredients. They are all superb individually, but they don't make sense together. You could come up with some new sort of meal and make it delicious, you have a talent for it. But instead you go the easy way - you put them in a shit-stainted shaky bowl, you say it's great and you serve it to your customers.
Cormack McCarthy is like such a cook. He knows how to compose things, he had the right ingredients. But instead of thinking of a whole product first, he decided to throw in some events and characters he probably thought of additionally while writing his previous stories and he decided to sell them as another product. Wrapped in shitty, plot hole filled story which is this movie's script. And that script is the movie's ultimate downfall. Ridley Scott is a skilled director and the cast is filled with talented actors. But when the story is boring and ridiculous, there is only so much one can do.
When I read the script a while ago I was hoping many sequences will be cut, many dialogue heavy scenes will be rewritten. Unfortunately, it didn't happen. While there are changes to the script they are not the right ones - they cut out scenes that worked, shortened the scenes that didn't need to be shortened and left the worst, most self-indulgently pretentious moments in.
The plot of the film is not complicated - it's just so half-assed you think it's complicated. You are watching this and thinking - surely there needs to be more to this, right? No. In a nutshell a wealthy Counselor (Michael Fassbender, trying his best and even his best isn't good enough) becomes an investor in a drug deal. The drug deal goes wrong. The Counselor gets blamed for it. The shitstorm occurs.
The fact the Counselor even gets involved is one of the many asinine things in this story. His partners are Reiner and Westray - two guys who drive fancy cars, have tons of cash, clubs, chicks, you name it - they have it. Why would they even need a partner? They wouldn't, case closed.
And let's talk about this Counselor. He is a lawyer - which means he finished law school and passed the bar. I'm 3/4 into that journey and I already started thinking of death not as of a terrible thing but as of sweet release. And this guy is behind that awful phase and making money. He is young, good looking and he is banging Penelope Cruz. He has enough money to afford outrageously fancy engagement ring for her. And he wants more. Jesus Christ, just what kind of an idiot is he?
His character is one of the biggest issues - you don't necessarily have to like the protagonist but you should at least find him interesting. Not only is this guy not interesting - he is impossibly stupid. He is getting warnings from people not to get involved in drug business left and right and he still does this. Then - a surprise to no one - things go wrong.
What makes matters worse is that literally everyone - even the imprisoned mother of one of the many, many side characters - is more interesting than this guy. So essentially the guy you are supposed to root for at least a little becomes a plot device designed to get other people to act and talk cool when he is around.Javier Bardem and Brad Pitt are rightfully being singled out in most reviews as two actors who make this movie watchable. Bardem sports another crazy hairstyle and has fun with his role - his lively and colorful character is interesting from the very first scene. His expression during already infamous sex scene on the hood of the car is one of the very few laugh out loud moments which the film desperately needed. When you're not laughing or feeling tension, in much too few scenes, you are just watching this completely numb.
Pitt on the other hand completely steals the show as Westray - an all around odd but mysterious guy, who is both cool and a little bit disturbed. Him and Bardem seem to be the only ones understanding this script will be good for them and bad for everyone else - since they are the only ones actually looking comfortable with their roles.
Pitt makes his character the only layered one in this whole movie and it is entirely thanks to him. He gives his character a weird trait - maniacal laughter he uses in the most inappropriate moments. His Westray is far gone - both in drug deals and the reality of the world, yet his fun loving nature prevents him from getting away. When he finally does, it's much too late.
I was impressed by Penelope Cruz who pulls off innocent and sweet Laura well. You should know however that she has even less scenes than in the trailer. That's right. Less than 10 minutes of screentime total. And her scenes don't really add much, although out of everyone it's easiest to feel bad for her naive character.
The worst performance in the movie is hands down, Cameron Diaz's Malkina. It takes talent to wreck an interesting character like that to such extent. I was always undecided when it comes to Diaz and her acting talent - she was fairly good in Vanilla Sky, but here in The Counselor as far as I can tell she has buried herself in the mud that will probably get her to do TV series soon because no one will want to hire her in serious films. Her performance is so bad it sinks whatever promise was left in this movie.
Diaz doesn't try to understand her character. She doesn't get her character. She plays the part with the smug expression on her face that instead of saying 'I'm badass Malkina' says 'I'm Cameron Diaz and I get to do outrageous things in the movie". The fact she is miscast is one thing, the fact she doesn't even try to do something interesting with the role is another. The film also has a number of cameos who are as useless as they are forgettable. Natalie Dormer makes an impression as the associate of Malkina - in fact her 2 minutes in this movie have more fire in them than all of the fancy A listers present here. But with that script and that story, there is only so much anyone can do.
There is a lot going on in here that will get people talking - Bolito scene, which was pretty great, sex scene with the car, which was fairly forgettable other than Bardem's expression, the opening scene with Cruz and Fassbemder, which is awful beyond belief. Honestly, maybe old men shouldn't write sex talk? McCormac's writing was so bad here it literally ruined a scene where Fassbender eats his girlfriend out. I didn't think ruining such a scene was even possible.
As much as I like Ridley Scott, I'm very glad this movie flopped. He needs a swift kick in the ass. I'm sick and tired of him releasing a movie and then saying 'oh, by the way, director's cut is gonna be much better'. What the hell. I want to to see a movie, not a freaking preview for Director's Cut. You can't keep releasing something you don't really like and tell people to wait several years so they can spend even more money and see the intended version. Eva Green should really sue Scott for how he butchered her work in theatrical version of Kingdom of Heaven.
The film has several things that worked - the score is excellent and Pitt performance almost makes the movie worth seeing. Unfortunately all in all it's a waste of talent and everyone's time.
(The Counselor, dir. Ridley Scott, 2013, 117 min.)