A British investment broker inherits his uncle's chateau and vineyard in Provence, where he spent much of his childhood. He discovers a new laid-back lifestyle as he tries to renovate the estate to be sold.
A rich and successful lawyer, the Counselor, is about to get married to his fiancée but soon becomes entangled in a complex drug plot with a middle-man known as Westray. The plan ends up taking a horrible twist and he must protect himself and his soon to be bride as the truth of the drug business is uncovered and targets are eliminated. Written by
The Counselor: A Shakespearean tragedy of greed and desperation.
The Counselor, like previous McCarthy adaptations, is gorgeous to behold, but unlike No Country and the others, this one is unnervingly bright, lensed in iridescent yellows and grungy grim tones. It lacks the scope of a Gladiator or a Kingdom of Heaven, instead acting as a somehow intimate, character-driven (or perhaps "dialogue-driven" is better) tale. It is, one could say, Ridley Scott's first fable (yes, Legend notwithstanding).
Allow me to explain. The story, like most McCarthy tales, is simple: a nameless lawyer (Fassbender), madly in love with his fiancée Laura (Cruz) and seeking to provide for her and give her the life she deserves, decides to get in a once-and-I'm-out deal: namely, to get involved in a venture dealing with twenty million dollars worth of drugs being ferried to the States from Mexico. The counselor's associates in this job are the flamboyant Reiner (Javier Bardem, returning to McCarthy's bleak world yet again, though this time sporting a Brian Grazer-esque hairdo instead of Chigurh's pageboy) and middleman Westray (Brad Pitt, sporting a Tom Petty style), both of whom warn the counselor that this deal will change his life in ways he cannot fathom. The film also focuses on Reiner's Argentinean squeeze Malkina, played by Cameron Diaz. Malkina is a glammed-up diva in the Donatella Versace vein (comparable to Kristin Scott Thomas's equally diva-like turn in Only God Forgives; they could be sisters), sporting a cheetah-spot design tattooed to her throat and a felicitous feline sneer everywhere she turns (she even owns a pair of cheetahs that she sics on desert jackrabbits for her and Reiner's amusement).
Of course, as is wont to happen in McCarthy's world, something goes wrong, sh_t hits the fan, and the lives of every character hangs in the balance. Characters are sliced, diced, shot and (in one gruesome instance) subject to a weapon of grim ingenuity that involves a motor, a loop of unbreakable wire, and a jetting gout of blood. Yet the film also brings levity to it in spades, to the point that The Counselor could almost be considered a black comedy. Much of the film's action is "interaction," as the counselor deals with the other characters that warn, judge, and even blame him for the capricious trick of fate that has sealed their own. McCarthy's penchant for cipher-like monologues is in full play here, and it can bog down an unwary traveler. That said, for all of its deep soliloquies and terse warnings, the film is not indecipherable, and at times McCarthy's caustic wit comes across brilliantly.
Scott and McCarthy manage to coax some pretty impressive work from their cadre. Michael Fassbender, whose character is himself little more than an archetype (the "good man who f_cks up once and pays for it dearly"), is actually quite good here, and I'm probably in the minority when I say that I prefer his turn here over his acclaimed performance in Shame (a film I respect but have little affection for). Cruz makes the most of a rather lightweight part, and even though her character exists as little more than an ideal, it still works. Bardem is, for once, the comic relief, playing an entrancingly funny motormouth who is the polar opposite of his last McCarthy character. He is the one who has the most fun with the dialogue and despite English being his second language, he nails Cormac's every nuance. Pitt's Westray is laid-back yet high-strung, and seems an easy fit for the actor, giving every line a wry twist. But the true revelation is Diaz's against-type turn. She is the character audiences will remember most of all, and not just because of her fornication with a Bentley (it makes sense in context . . . I think). There is a hard, wicked steel in her performance, almost predatory. There are other memorable turns, like Ruben Blades's one-scene wonder and even Dean Norris of Breaking Bad fame, that make this a truly sumptuous ensemble.
The Counselor is not an easy watch, both because of its violence and because Scott and McCarthy (I have to credit both men; it feels like such a collaborative creative effort) don't dumb it down. It's a simple story, but it's also one that feels like Scott's most mature work. It isn't without its flaws (certain scenes run on a bit long, while others feel a bit short-changed), but The Counselor results in a perverse viewing that is, in a word, unforgettable.
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