The Counselor Movie Review
Ridley Scott teams with an all-star cast to make a movie based on a screenplay by Cormac McCarthy, and the result should be awesome. Instead, you walk away with the nagging question: is McCarthy brilliant, or just a guy who doesn't know how to write third acts?
I fall squarely in the camp of people who consider No Country for Old Men, also based on a Cormac McCarthy novel, to be a terrific movie until its non-ending ruins things. You sophisticates will say the counter-conventional conclusion is incredible, intelligent, metaphorical and powerful. I, being a stupid, regular Joe, call it a lame-ass ending that doesn't work.
The Counselor is sort of like No Country for Old Men, only not as good, not as suspenseful and not as interesting. It isn't terrible, and at times it hooks you in just the right way, but then it doesn't, and then there's the ending. Or the lack of one. It's hard to really enjoy a movie that fizzles at the end, and at the very least it's challenging to look back on such a film and really appreciate it. The Counselor, for all its flaws, could have been an awesome movie had it amounted to something. Instead, nothing happens, or at least nothing good happens, and that nothing good happens to no-good characters we ultimately don't care about.
Sadly, there is plenty to like about the movie (which makes its mediocrity so much more disappointing). Michael Fassbender delivers a fine performance in the lead, even though I still have no idea exactly what his role in the story was (McCarthy, writing his first original screenplay, purposely skips over key story elements because that's what sophisticated writers do, apparently). Penelope Cruz isn't given much to do, but Javier Bardem more than makes up for it. And Brad Pitt gives yet another entertaining and memorable performance in a supporting role.
The dialogue is pretty slick, though some won't like it. Fassbender, Bardem and Pitt relish in it; unfortunately, Cameron Diaz struggles and is clearly out of her element. Even worse: she has a pretty significant role and is given many of the film's toughest lines.
But the real problem is the story, or at least how the story is told. McCarthy's attempts to be smart and edgy by cropping out critical plot elements, explaining what is going on or giving any true resolution to his characters (the ones who survive, that is) simply don't work all that well.
The Counselor isn't a disaster and the adventurous type looking for a different type of thriller - but one with significant directing, writing and acting credits - might find the movie worthwhile. But McCarthy's inability, or worse, unwillingness, to give the movie a semi-conventional ending kills The Counselor's chances at being anything more than mediocre.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.