Movie review: The counselor
2.5 out of 5 stars
Published: Monday, October 28, 2013
Updated: Monday, October 28, 2013 22:10
A successful lawyer, played by Michael Fassbender, has a seemingly perfect life between his house, his car, his fame and his beautiful girlfriend, played by Penélope Cruz. But he wants more. He proposes to his girlfriend and simultaneously decides to make more money by joining drug trafficking. He wonders what could possibly go wrong.
At the end of “The Counselor,” the audience also wonders what went wrong—the movie has one of the greatest directors, a brilliant writer, acclaimed actors and intriguing themes, and yet, something evidently goes wrong with this combination. The viewers are left bewildered and confounded—even somewhat angry depending on their expectations.
The main character, only referred to as “Counselor” in the movie, is a morally indifferent lawyer who is new to the drug trafficking business. His associate, Reiner, played by Oscar-winning actor Javier Bardem, introduces Counselor to the business world. Meanwhile, Reiner is preoccupied, worrying about his eccentric and alluring bisexual girlfriend named Malkina, played by Cameron Diaz, who eventually comes to have a more significant role in the movie. Counselor also gets warned several times throughout the movie about the inevitable outcomes of making a choice. He simply ignores them. This will be his biggest mistake as he finds himself in a living hell when the drug dealing goes rogue.
Ridley Scott directs this ambitious, erotic and violent movie with the acclaimed Cormac McCarthy writing the screenplay for the first time. Their unique styles are unquestionably presented in “The Counselor.” Fassbender, Diaz and even Bardem do fantastic jobs conveying Scott and McCarthy’s visions. Diaz especially brings out a chilling performance that certainly stands out from her usual acting. Her character truly represents McCarthy’s unique characterization in the movie. The movie also has a couple of visually striking and brutal scenes, emphasizing Scott’s trademark and the movie’s gloomy themes.
The problem, however, is that something really goes astray in the movie. Overall, it is a cluster of muddled segments that struggle to narrate a proper balance between the dark themes and the story itself. In the end, viewers cannot help but feel unpleasant and unsatisfied. For “The Counselor,” the issue is not with its themes but the way they are integrated with the story.
Although the writing itself is not awful, the movie would have been much better if it were a book, as the film features a number of monologues that would be better in novel format. However, because it is a movie, this integration falls apart, leaving the viewers to deal with inevitability on their own. It fundamentally fails to promote the audience’s narrativity or the process by which viewers use to make sense out of the movie.
“The Counselor” explores concepts such as greed, violence, misogyny, sex, choice and consequence. The movie also implicitly juggles around with the concept of inevitable fate and human limitation. Again, those dark themes are not the main factors that bring this movie down. As a writer, McCarthy is known for these themes. The most critical problem with “The Counselor” is that the movie barely offers something else to stimulate viewers through two excruciating hours. Instead, it tortures the audience by just throwing heavy themes at them.
Something definitely went wrong with “The Counselor” for both the main character and the moviemakers. It had potential, for sure. But like many other unfortunate movies, it did not work out as hoped. The movie will most likely leave many viewers with a sense of regret and despair, especially if they went in with high expectations. The consequence of watching this movie might be as bad as the price Counselor has to pay for the choices he makes in the film.
—Jae Woo Chung