Monday, October 28, 2013

Movie Review: 'The Counselor' should have worked but it really, really doesn't

This movie review originally appeared at KPC Media Group's website and in its daily newspapers. Read the original review here. Reprinted with permission.

On paper, "The Counselor" isn't just a good movie. It's a great one.

It was written by the legendary Cormac McCarthy. Directed by Ridley Scott. Starring Michael Fassbender, Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Cameron Diaz and Brad Pitt. How could it go wrong?

Oh, but it went wrong. Startlingly, disappointingly, upsettingly wrong.

The movie follows a lawyer addressed only as Counselor (Michael Fassbender), who enters the fraught and dangerous world of drug trafficking from Mexico and almost immediately screws everything up and endangers everybody around him, including the man who brought him in on the scheme, Reiner (Javier Bardem); Westray (Brad Pitt), the middleman; and his fiance, Laura (Penelope Cruz).

Even the plot sounds pretty good, right? I love the idea of telling the story of a man dealing with the terrifying repercussions of one very ill-advised decision made out of greed. That is a great idea for a movie!

Unfortunately, "The Counselor" never comes together. It's obvious where McCarthy and Scott were going with it, trying to make an artistic character drama examining the consequences of greed. But apparently they overthought their strategy, because instead they made a winding, piecemeal movie with a plot that often was incredibly vague. I fancy myself a pretty smart person who can follow a movie that doesn't spell out the entire plot and makes the audience think, but I was utterly lost at several points, and not in a fun way. After all, sometimes it's great to wait until the end of the movie for everything to click into place. But "The Counselor" just plodded along, showing seemingly unrelated scenes with characters from other scenes occasionally wandering in and out of them. "Inexplicable" is probably the best word to describe the whole bewildering experience.

"The Counselor" is a very talky movie, too, which is not inherently a terrible thing either. But the dialogue is often unnatural, and it didn't feel like that was an artistic decision. The characters also have a weird propensity to break into strange, stilted soliloquies. They were an attempt to insert a Very Important Lesson into the proceedings, I think, but they just came off as pompous and self-important. Even worse, they were dull and, often, not very well-acted. If even a great actor like Javier Bardem or Michael Fassbender can't make it work, you have a problem, and when Cameron Diaz, who isn't quite so talented as her costars, attempts one, it's just painful to watch.

Even the occasional ultra-violent beheading and awkwardly graphic sex scene can't spice up "The Counselor" too much. I wasn't offended by the scenes - in fact, the violent scenes especially were important to the story that I think they were trying to tell - but they just even more brought to the forefront what a mess the whole movie was. They could have been so effective if the audience cared about the characters or the plot made a lick of sense.

"The Counselor" is an exercise in wasted opportunity. There was so much talent involved both on camera and behind the camera, and there is such a wonderful, interesting plot in there somewhere, buried by self-important mumbo-jumbo and bad writing. Muy high expectations walking in made "The Counselor" just that much more of a major disappointment.

Jenny's Take: See it on TV during a bout of insomnia.

(Rated R for graphic violence, some grisly images, strong sexual content and language. Runs 117 minutes.)

No comments:

Post a Comment