Movie review: 'The Counselor' falls on its pretentious face

For the News-DemocratOctober 24, 2013 

What It's About

Do not be blinded by the A-list cast's star power and the movie's sexually charged allure. "The Counselor" is a sleek, sophisticated, pretentious and annoying modern version of "The Emperor's New Clothes."

Celebrated American author Cormac McCarthy's original screenplay is a bunch of existential hot air, overblown proselytizing about the futility of life that is wrapped in fancy packaging, with violent exclamation points. McCarthy's bleak novel "No Country For Old Men" benefitted from the Coen Brothers' quirky touch for that movie. Here, people talk in riddles and say the same thing over and over again. Director Ridley Scott has lost his compass, shooting scenes that go nowhere, and relying on dusty panoramic landscape shots from his cinematographer to make statements.

A lawyer (Michael Fassbender) finds himself in over his head when he gets involved in drug trafficking, and he encounters a number of greedy amoral dudes who pontificate in philosophical rants. No one talks with people they barely know like this, except in McCarthy's misogynistic works. He clearly hates women and has an ax to grind on a number of personality types.

The movie is populated with characters that we can't figure out how they are connected, or why, and there appears to be no desire to let us in on who's who or what's what. Four recognizable actors (Dean Norris, John Leguizamo, Goran Visjnic and Ruben Blades) appear in the final scenes of the movie, and we get few clues about them. Not a single person has a backstory.

The plot is extremely dense and muddled when it should be clear -- drug trafficking is a big dangerous business, and with very bad guys pulling the strings, it can get very nasty very quickly.

Performances

The cast is under the assumption that they are doing great art. Not that Javier Bardem, Michael Fassbender and Brad Pitt don't have some interesting moments, but basically everyone is flailing about, trying to do something that matters, giving each other meaningful looks with pregnant pauses. But since we don't know much about anybody, or why should we care about what's at stake, it's a train wreck. Oh, they live lavish lifestyles with pretty things, a contrast to the dirt and sweat displayed by the poor Mexicans doing the gritty grunt work.

Cameron Diaz badly overacts as a kinky predator, and Rosie Perez, in her brief jailhouse scenes as a tough felon, is a close second.

What Works:

What Doesn't Work

The plot is so thin and full of holes that we never fully engage with these people or the story that unfolds in an erratic manner. A couple killings are exceptionally gruesome.

This movie is horrible, high-end garbage passing itself off as a prestige picture.

1 star out of 4

Director: Ridley Scott

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, Rosie Perez, Dean Norris, Goran Visnjic, John Leguizamo,

Length: 1:57

Rated: R for graphic violence, some grisly images, strong sexual content and language

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