Directed by Ridley Scott
On paper, “The Counselor” has all the makings of a major Academy Award contender. The production features an all-star cast, a legendary and well-established director, Ridley Scott, and a writer, Cormac McCarthy whose work — especially in “No Country for Old Men” — has had significant presence at the Academy Awards in recent years.
Despite all this, “The Counselor” falls incredibly short because of the lack of character development and story. The film centers on a lawyer only referred to as “The Counselor” (Michael Fassbender), who becomes involved in drug trafficking. He partners with his longtime companion Reiner (Javier Bardem) while his personal life begins to take off with newfound love Laura (Penélope Cruz). The Counselor is advised along the way by another partner, Westray (Brad Pitt), who serves as his guiding voice in times of trouble. In displaying what is no doubt a dangerous business, the film shows — sometimes in shockingly violent and unexpected ways — how involvement in the drug-trafficking world can completely ruin a life.
Fassbender delivers a great performance in the lead role, masterfully blending the rocky life of a high-profile lawyer with a man who also has to make sure his personal life is in order. The stellar supporting cast certainly shines as well. Bardem and Cameron Diaz both excel in their roles, mixing humor and drama seamlessly through sexual tension, making the audience laugh out loud one moment and gasp the next. Pitt’s role as a womanizing bachelor and Cruz’s great performance as the woman who finally makes the Counselor think about settling down demonstrate the talent of the standout supporting cast.
Even with the A-list cast, there is only so much that these veteran performers can do with the underachieving script. McCarthy turns in his first Hollywood screenplay, but the overly minimalistic story becomes disappointing quickly and is the biggest downfall of the film. The story does not delve beyond the one drug heist, merely revealing how the shipment moves in a waste truck, the conflict the shipment causes and the aftermath.
The action in “The Counselor” tries to shock audiences with drug-cartel violence, but the desert gun fights and targeted assassinations feature an exuberant amount of blood and gore, making the sequences feel like a stereotypical horror film.
However, on the technical side, the film excels quite well. Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski collaborates with Scott for the second time — the two previously worked on “Prometheus” together. Whether it be a Texas desert, a fancy hotel in London or a run-down neighborhood in Amsterdam, Wolski finds a way to make every location traveled to look beautiful, showing off the wealthy lifestyle that comes with success in the drug business.
The film comes in at just under two hours, but even with the experienced staff making the film look physically beautiful, the mood leaving the theater is one of disappointment, knowing that “The Counselor” could have been much better. Not even Wolski’s flawless cinematography can save this thinly layered film.