Craig's First Take: "The Counselor"

Photo Credit: Photo by Kerry Brown – © 2013 - Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved. Not for sale or duplication

Cormac McCarthy’s books have always been considered unfilmmable but “The Counselor” is proof that even one of his screenplays is tough to put to film. Both feeling incomplete and ponderously existential, the film has no point or character worth caring about and pretty much all that’s left is director Ridley Scott’s stylized violence and a handful of scenes that add a disturbing darkness to the drug trade.

Michael Fassbender is the Counselor, a lawyer who’s just bought his girlfriend (Penelope Cruz) a wedding ring and now for some reason has no money left. He heads down to Juarez, Mexico where one of his clients, a drug pusher named Reiner (Javier Bardem), is awaiting him. Reiner is one of those guys who does little more than ramble on and on about his girlfriend (Cameron Diaz), he seemingly can't tell she's nuts. The most interesting thing about him is he owns two cheetahs. For some reason the Counselor sees drug trafficing as his only other option for income. He also has a client (Rosie Perez) in prison who has a son who likes to speed on his motorcycle. Cartel members and drug thieves also make appearances, mostly just to add some violence here. For some reason we also meet one of the Counselor’s pissed off clients. Then somehow the murder of someone completely outside the Counselor's circle of confidants effects the drug running and the livelihood of everyone around him.

“Somehow” this got mistaken for a plot by someone at Twentieth Century Fox who didn’t seem to notice how weakly all this gets tied together. The vagueness of the character development doesn’t help much either. I was literally going “hey, there’s Brad Pitt in a pony tail”, “Hey, there’s Javier Bardem with a Brian Grazer haircut”, “why did Cameron Diaz agree to hump a car windshield?” That last part is just one of the ways the movie uses women for little more than sexual exploitation, yet we’re supposed to care when Counselor gets his girlfriend in trouble in the second half of the film. “Hey, there’s Michael Fassbender crying, and he’s so upset he’s drooling too.”

All this is set up so McCarthy can go into ponderous monologues about hunters and moral dilemmas and human flaw and accepting your reality and love and.. it all goes on and on. This is one of those movies where character’s say things like “All my family is dead, now I am the one who has no meaning.” Maybe in a literature class some of these quotes would be broken down and analyzed but as part of an entire film where the characters and plot never really take on significance, it’s all just yapping.

I’ll say this though. “The Counselor” is a movie made by talented people, only real pros could get something like this made. Unfortunately there are some things even pros can’t make work on screen.