Friday, November 1, 2013

The Counselor tries for cool, but ends up cold

Sometimes too much of a good thing is not a good thing. The Counselor on paper must have seemed like a cinephile's dream. Start off with an A list cast which includes Michael Fassbender, Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz and Brad Pitt in the lead roles. Even the bit players read like a whos who of film. Bruno Ganz, Rosie Perez, Ruben Blades, Dean Norris, Goran Visnjic, and John Leguizamo all play parts that in other films would be given to whomever showed up at the casting call. Not enough? Let's throw in Ridley Scott to direct. Want more? We will have Cormac McCarthy write the screenplay.
Are you salivating yet? No?  Wait until you hear the story. There's an amoral lawyer (is there really any other kind?) (Fassbender), a mysterious middle man of uncertain business background but an interesting taste in clothing and hair styles (Bardem), a cool philosophizing cowboy drug dealer (Pitt), a cold hearted femme fatale (Diaz), a beautiful good girl (Cruz), a cartel boss expounding existential philosophy (Blades), and plenty of nameless and merciless killers. There are even a pair of pet cheetahs.
Have we got your attention yet? I thought so. The plot is set on the Juarez/Texas border and revolves around a drug deal gone bad. There are plenty double crosses, shootouts, car chases and crashes and at least one ingenious decapitation. The dialogue has shades of Tarantino if he had actually gone to university and ended up with a Ph. D. in philosophy. There are noir shades of pretty much every Bogart/Bacall film ever made and, well, shades of No Country for Old Men.
Sadly all of the above never really pays off. The Counselor is lesser than the sum of its parts. Its a collage of "cool" film moments that seems too self aware of how "cool" it really is and none of them ever come together. It tries too hard and never really captures a single genuine moment. Plenty of films can give us amoral characters, but the great ones also give us an inkling of a moral baseline that gives the story poignancy. We never get to care for any of the characters. The lead character doesn't even get to have name and is known simply as The Counselor.
If anyone really wants to see an interesting story dealing with the similar themes I suggest getting the first season of The Bridge. The Counselor feels mostly like an exercise in style and mannerisms. It doesn't seem to be sure if it wants to be "a who done it", "a how they done it", or "a why they done it". It never progresses beyond being "a they done it" and that's supposed to be enough. It isn't.

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