The Pitt News

‘The Counselor’ a well-acted, confused mess of a film

By Ian Flanagan / For The Pitt News

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Armed with an excellent cast, an experienced director, and a celebrated writer, “The Counselor” appeared to have enough resources to be a compelling adult drama, but the underused and misdirected talent led a disappointing and baffling clutter of colorful confusion.

The visual panache and impressive collection of actors are about all that “The Counselor” has in its favor. The film is slowly undone by an inconsistent quality of dialogue, a dangerous lack of exposition and a largely unsatisfying conclusion.

Michael Fassbender once again offers an extraordinary performance as a man simply referred to as “Counselor.” Caught up in drug smuggling and ill-prepared to face the repercussions of unfortunate circumstances, Counselor struggles to keep himself and his fiancee Laura (a sorely underused Penelope Cruz) alive. Although Fassbender can sell the desperation of his situation, the absence of a courageous and daring protagonist feels misplaced in a film so unfazed by its own ridiculousness. Writer Cormac McCarthy’s films generally lack a protagonist in the traditional sense of the word.

Counselor has a few acquaintances in his illegal activities. Westray (Brad Pitt, in another decent turn) is a confident middleman, and Reiner (Javier Bardem sporting a disgracefully bad haircut) is an eccentric friend deeply involved with drug trafficking, along with his ravenous and wicked girlfriend Malkina (Cameron Diaz).

It would likely be a challenge for anyone to explain the film’s plot given how little the film explains itself. While ideally it is refreshing that a film resists force-feeding plot details to the audience, “The Counselor” is far too befuddling for its own good — the story, particularly the conclusion, is not fascinating nor satisfying enough to compensate for the enormous lack of clarity. “The Counselor” is nonetheless absorbing solely due to the expectation that the film will eventually reveal itself to be compelling underneath the pulpy style, mostly uncomfortable sexual material and startling moments of violence — although, regrettably, it isn’t.

Scott, despite decades of reasonably great filmmaking, hardly seems confident in this film’s direction. The film stumbles from drama to action to unnecessary sexual scenes in an aimless stupor. McCarthy’s frustratingly uneven dialogue hardly helps the problem. The film in its entirety seems so concerned with being edgy and sensationalist that any enjoyment soon evaporates in the haze of the manufactured sleaziness. Whether the messiness is intentional or not, “The Counselor” is unforgivably sloppy.

It’s easy to be seduced by the quality of the actors, writer and director involved with the film. However, upon the slightest reflection, the film’s lazily constructed ideas crumble into a heap.

Though saved in some respects by good performances and an assertive visual style, “The Counselor” remains a trashy, confounding, unsettling and narratively unfulfilled mess.

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‘The Counselor’ a well-acted, confused mess of a film