Tuesday, 26 November 2013

REVIEW: The Counsellor

When Cormac McCarthy handed in a spec screenplay in place of a new novel to his publishers a couple of years ago, it wasn’t long before Ridley Scott was attached to direct, and in turn, the stars followed. The screenplay has been read with horror by many a scriptworm as McCarthy has flouted every rule and format traditional screenplays are supposed to adopt. But who cared, the Pulitzer-winning writer still bagged $2 million for the work probably based on his name under the title alone, and looking at the finished article, it’s clear that this was a case of all hype no substance. The film’s plot is almost a riddle to decipher, and at the end of it most of the audience just looked at each other perplexed, and shortchanged. 

The Counsellor starts with two lovers - Michael Fassbender’s nameless ‘Counsellor’, and Penelope Cruz’s Laura – rolling around in bedsheets whispering sweet-nothings as they prepare for more ‘love-making’; it’s a very bad start and comes across as very naff and superfluous - a notable pointer that 'these two people are very much in love'. Anyhow, the Counsellor gets involved in a big-money drug deal which sees a package of cocaine travelling from Columbia to Chicago in a sewage truck with a street value of $20 million. The story has almost nil setup and fails to answer or address a lot of plot intricacies, but it seems that the deal is being done quietly under the nose of the warring Mexican cartels, who discover this blatant disregard when one of their mules is killed, and come down on everyone involved. Meanwhile, throw into the mix some double-crossing, humungous plot-holes and geographical shifts, and you're well and truly lost.

The plot quite a strained premise, and the film is completely remiss of any decent background or development meaning we never really care, and even when the heartless and shocking conclusion is revealed in the shape of a simple CD, the impact is lost. The film is completely in tune with McCarthy’s nihilistic worldview, and never really strives to be anything more than a very dark and dank anecdote of a greedy lawyer who got mixed up with a bunch of Mexican savages. It is a film about morality and consequences, but we are only dipped into the machinations of this seedy underbelly by our heels, making the consequences rather confusing, even if expected. To be completely frank, the whole film is just a mess, and there is simply no explaining the Counsellor’s motives; the first half of the film is spent with his nefarious clientele – stetson-wearing Brad Pitt as neo-Cowboy middleman Westray, and spiky-haired Javier Bardem as a garishly-clad drug-dealer Reiner – warning him over again with drawn-out monologues and existential metaphors that this deal is a very bad idea, and then all of them go ahead anyway. The Counsellor is rich, successful and happy with his innocent and beautiful fiancée, Penelope Cruz, and aside from greed, his motives remain somewhat opaque and thus very mundane.

There is some good cinematography and dialogue, which usually involves Cameron Diaz’s killer role as Malkina, a mysterious and sultry femme fatale complete with cheetah spot tattoos, a pair of pet cheetahs, and a soliloquy about what it means to be a cheetah (even her scenes seem very contrived). There is no denying Malkina gets the most memorable moment, which involves having sex with a Ferrari California – and a very descriptive anecdote from her boyfriend, Reiner, comparing her genitalia to a catfish. The only other point where interest spiked a little was in anticipation of ‘Chekhov’s gun’. Early on we are told about a motorised garrotting device, popular with the cartels, in which a wire Bolo tie is looped over the victims neck and the motor attached to it slowly pulls the wire tighter until eventually the whole head is lopped off – it’s a well-shot scene and the character’s predicament is truly harrowing.

The ingredients were all there - established director, acclaimed writer, A-list cast - for an intelligent crime tale on the Tex-Mex border, but sadly the dish wasn't only served cold, but flavourless as well. Scott did well refraining from changing McCarthy’s bleak outlook into Hollywood fodder, but this film just doesn’t ride on the same plain as No Country for Old Men which showcase better performances, a better script and a much clearer narrative. [2/5]

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