t h e  c o u n s e l l o r

the counsellor 2.jpg
UK Release Date 15th November 2013
Director Ridley Scott
Starring Javier Bardem's Teeth
Runtime 117 Minutes
Certificate 18
Reviewer Si
Reviewed 21st November 2013

Ridley hasn't exactly been hitting them out of the park for us in recent years. Our bitterness at the terrible mess that is Prometheus is still hanging around and the idea of an 'Unnamed Blade Runner Project' is, well, troubling to say the least. But surely a man of his talent, coupled with the author of the superb No Country for Old Men must be a winning formula? Especially if you throw in a virtual hit list of Hollywood talent....

The Counsellor is a difficult movie to précis with any ease. Simply put, it's about a lawyer who gets involved with a drug smuggling deal that goes awry when somebody he is very loosely connected with is bumped off. The Mexican cartel doesn't take kindly to this and comes after him and everybody involved. Kind of.

The list of talent involved is certainly impressive. Michael Fassbender plays the eponymous Counsellor. only ever referred to by that title, Penelope Cruz is his fiancee, Javier Bardem plays one member of the drug gang and Brad Pitt sports a horrible ponytail as the final member of the gang. Cameron Diaz pops up as Bardem's quite possibly psychotic, cheetah loving girlfriend and Rosie Perez plays the client who inadvertently causes the whole thing to fall apart. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, as you may have inferred from my tone, quite a lot. It's been a while since a movie made me quite this angry at its failings but angry is certainly what I was as I left the screening for this. Where to start? I'd usually go with the positives but to be honest, I'm really struggling to find too much to go in that category. My main issue with the movie is its utterly disjointed feel. We begin with snapshots of both the Counsellor's relationship - in bed with Laura (Cruz) and Reiner's (Bardem) relationship with Malkina (Diaz) - sitting out in the desert with drinks watching the cheetahs chase down rabbits. What this actually tells us about these relationships is anyone's guess because we're given no information at all about the characters. At one point Malkina states that both her parents were dropped out of a helicopter into the Atlantic when she was a kid but it's impossible to tell if she's kidding or if this is supposed to be an insight into her mental state. The whole thing feels like filmed extracts from a coherent novel that I haven't read.

In place of background what we get is lurid accounts of weird behaviour, (Diaz on the windscreen of a Ferrari put me in mind of something from a Lee Daniels film, that is, something shouting 'look at my film! isn't it gross!'), disconnected encounters and graphic descriptions of how the cartel punish people who cross them. All of which leads to a situation where you are left with only one line to explain the Counsellor's motivation for entering an incredibly perilous business ('My back is really against the wall'), which is nowhere near enough when we see him immaculately dressed, dating an incredible woman and living in a luxury house. Yes, all this may be built on a lie but we're never let in on what that lie is and without that knowledge, what do I care if it all goes wrong? Fassbender is a superb actor and he gives it his best shot showing the Counsellor's descent and emotional implosion but it's so lacking context that it's impossible to care what happens to him.

Which brings me to the script. The Counsellor is an incredibly wordy film. This is not a problem in itself, I have all the time in the world for films that are happy to assume the audience has the concentration span to listen to dialogue but again, it is all so disjointed. Desperately searching for his missing fiancee, the Counsellor flies to Mexico to meet somebody who may be able to help him, we're not told who this person is or how the Counsellor knows him but after their meeting we're left to assume that the answer to the Counsellor's question is no. Later we find him sat in a car, on the phone to another person we don't know, presumably with some connection to the cartel.  A good five minutes of solid dialogue from the cartel member later and we're none the wiser as to what's occurring as he has spent the entire time rambling on about the Counsellor being at a crossroads. The route from which has apparently already been determined. Making the crossroad metaphor redundant. It's simply too many words giving us too little information.

At two points in the film, horrific deaths are described to the Counsellor, the first apparently to warn him about how serious the drug business is, the second to apparently warn him about how mean the drug business is. Chekhov's pistol theory has never been so spectacularly obvious. Two character's deaths are blatantly telegraphed by these descriptions and a third confession is equally prophetic of somebody's downfall. There is nothing more tedious than waiting an hour to find out just which character is going to be the inevitable recipient of the mechanical garrotte thing and which is going to receive the DVD (never played thankfully) showing a cartel member masturbating over or having sex with a still quivering corpse. I'm not making that up, I wish I was.

The Counsellor is heading for the dubious distinction of being one of my most disappointing movies of 2013. I've seen some poor films this year (The Identity Thief still makes me angry thinking about it) but none have wasted such a vast array of talent and my time quite so much as this mess. Pseudo-intellectual speeches ramble on in place of decent exposition, characterisation is replaced with horrendous wardrobe, action is dropped in favour of occasional acts of grim violence and not even the attendant talent can save this from being a thoroughly dull experience. As I left the screening, another multiplex punter summed the film up perfectly: 'What was the point?' And that, counsellor, concludes my summing up.

Check out the trailer here.

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