Film Review: 'The Counselor' is an exercise in pessimism

October 25, 2013|By Andy Klein
  • Cameron Diaz stars as Malkina, a dangerous and brilliant sociopath whose machinations have shocking consequences.
Cameron Diaz stars as Malkina, a dangerous and brilliant… (Courtesy of Twentieth…)

Michael Fassbender plays the title character in Ridley Scott's new “The Counselor.” That's the only way the other characters address him, as though he has no identity outside of his professional role; we never learn his actual name. This identification may be intended ironically, since he almost never gives counsel; in fact, he is the one who receives counsel — from nearly everybody else.

The only time we see him in his professional capacity is during a court-appointed pro bono gig for a woman (Rosie Perez) awaiting trial in a prison.

This may be intended as another irony, since his lifestyle and clothes signal that he's a very big-bucks type lawyer — someone who can fly to Amsterdam for no purpose other than choosing the right diamond for the engagement ring he hopes to present to his girlfriend (Penelope Cruz).

We quickly learn that he has invested in a huge drug deal that involves one — or several — of the big cartels. His club-owner buddy Reiner (Javier Bardem, with an Einstein hairdo) tries to dissuade him. Westray (Brad Pitt), his contact in the drug-dealing world, tries to dissuade him. Pretty much everybody who suspects that he's pulling this bonehead play (or something like it) tries to dissuade him — even his pro bono client. Pitt seems to be channeling Mickey Rourke in his breakout part in “Body Heat” — so much so he notices it himself: “What was it Mickey Rourke told that guy in the movie?” he asks.


The only major character who doesn't caution him is beautiful, coldhearted Malkina (Cameron Diaz), Reiner's enigmatic girlfriend.

Scott and screenwriter Cormac McCarthy never specify exactly why he's doing it. The counselor drops hints here and there, the likeliest being along the lines of “Because it was there,” i.e., he's trying to break the disturbing perfection of his existence. Of course, he gets his wish big-time when inevitably something goes wrong with the deal.

I'd love to tell you exactly what goes wrong with the deal, but I can't. Not because it would constitute a spoiler. It wouldn't: The skeins of deception and betrayal that compose the plot are so arbitrary and convoluted that I have no clear idea of who was on which side, or even how many sides there were. Control of the shipment changes hands more than once, and it's anybody's guess which, if any, of the factions is aligned with the counselor.

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