Cameron Diaz and Penelope Cruz in The Counselor

The counselor

DIRECTOR : Ridley Scott

CAST: Brad Pitt, Javier Bardem, Michael Fassbender, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz


RUNNING TIME: 111 minutes

RATING : 2 stars (out of 5)

Ann Hornaday

By the looks of it, The Counselor, a rancid, ultimately sodden crime thriller, was made to appeal to several audiences, among them fans of the cinematic stylings of Ridley Scott; acolytes of cult author Cormac McCarthy; and admirers of the Irish actor Michael Fassbender, who between the 2011 drama Shame and the opening sequence of this movie, has become Hollywood’s go-to-sex-guy for explicit between-the-sheets adventures.

In that naughty, teasingly graphic scene with Penelope Cruz, The Counselor, which Scott directed from a screenplay by McCarthy, supposedly lays its cards on the table: This is a movie that will pull no punches when it comes to sex (and, later, violence), but will instead confront viewers with frank, uncomfortable portrayals of the darkest parts of human nature.

Sadly, the filmmakers then dispense with any shreds of honesty they may have once aspired to by cutting to a shot of Cameron Diaz, gorgeous in magic-hour amber light, riding a horse while a cheetah runs alongside behind her.

As Malkina, the silver-clawed, gold-saber-toothed femme fatale, Diaz is just one of the tawdry characters who populate the south Texas nether-world of The Counselor, a sewage-soaked demimonde that is as confusing as it is spiritually compromised.

It seems that Fassbender’s title character – attorney at large to all manner of lowlifes – is in the midst of a shady deal involving Malkina’s boyfriend, Reiner (Javier Bardem), and a shadowy figure Westray (Brad Pitt).

Just what the deal is and how it all goes horribly wrong, it seems, are so tiresome – and their moral universe is so much more richly limned in Breaking Bad that McCarthy felt it necessary to gussy it up with windy, Shakespearian speeches, wearying conversational dead ends and lots of gratuitous swipes at female sexual appetites, which are clearly a source of enduring and unresolved anxiety for the poor guy.

Isn’t McCarthy – author of No Country for Old Men and The Road – supposed to be the master of macho toughness and spare stylistic control? You wouldn’t know it from this self-consciously nasty piece of noir, in which his familiar tropes by now look hackneyed and pathetic.

It’s an actor’s paradise, all this poetic, run-on musing, but it results in a movie that, despite its strenuous efforts to appear hardened and sexy and sleek, is unforgivably phony, talky and dull.

The Counselor must have looked great on paper, but you can’t believe a word of it. – Washington Post

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