When I stepped out from the movie theater tonight, I had an encounter that all critical fans dream of, yet almost never experience. As if summoned by Fate, three tiny, elderly people were standing right by the exit, prepared to buy their tickets. In one unified motion, they turned to me and asked, “Is that one any good?”
Glee filled my heart; my moment had arrived, and I was ready. I’d wanted the universe to ask my unique and personal opinion about The Counselor, and the universe had provided.
“IT WAS TERRIBLE!” I announced, quite loudly, and a woman leaving the theater behind me said to her husband, “Exactly! See, I told you so.”
I relay this conversation because it’s critical you understand that exchange was the most fun I had at the movies tonight.
There exist in the world ludicrous films, embarrassing films, or painfully hokey films, but those aren’t the worst things a film can be. Bad movies can still be fun movies, in their own way. There is only one crime a cinematic work can commit that renders it unsalvageable to an audience – and that is to be a boring film.
Unfortunately for its glamorous cast and famous director, The Counselor is a dreadfully mundane cinematic experience. On the surface, it’s the story of a lawyer who invests in a drug operation only to be forced to deal with the violent consequences when the transaction immediately goes wrong. I feel wrong even typing that previous sentence because I worry that my summary makes it sound more exciting than it is. Underneath the surface… it turns out to be the exact same story as you thought it was the first time. There are no hidden meanings; the script lays out its plan and then commences to plod through it as if reading an instruction manual.
I can’t remember the last time I felt like shouting at the screen in a public theater, but I almost did for the last dreary act of this movie. I felt trapped, forced to sit through two hours of tedious pontificating interspersed with dispassionate violence. A decent film can typically get away with one great philosophical monologue, or if they’re very lucky, two. Anything more than three is intolerable unless it’s written by Quentin Tarantino. The Counselor had no less than six, to the point that even a diamond appraiser who only appears in one scene gets to expound about the poetic fragility of beauty as an examination of the human condition. Eventually the script takes on a pattern: meaningful discussion, violence, meaningful discussion, violence, and more meaningful discussion.
In this case, the characters are so one-dimensional and the plot so perfunctory that none of it ends up being meaningful at all. The heart of this failure is that movie never establishes who the protagonist is, exactly, or why we should care about him. He has a title instead of a name, and jets around so much that even his citizenship is ambiguous. He makes a shady investment in a Colombian-Mexican drug operation, but the film doesn’t explain the nature of his involvement. The day after the protagonist agrees to sign onto this venture the goods are stolen mid-journey, and the titular counselor finds himself blamed for the millions lost. From that point onward, Michael Fassbender’s character is merely reactionary. He never takes agency over his situation, and when the cards fall, the audience is left to shrug their shoulders in the universal sign of “Eh, whatever.”
There are a few good things in The Counselor. Well, there’s two. The first is that you can play the “Spot the famous actor in a minor role!” game, and the professional cast does competent work for such a banal script. The second worthwhile aspect is that the film is visually attractive, with luxuriant wealth juxtaposed against elaborately staged murder scenes. When the best you can say about a movie is that “the acting wasn’t terrible” and “the sets were nice,” it’s time to call a dud a dud.
The Counselor is worth two out of five stars, and just coasts on the second because of production value.
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Cameron Diaz, Penelope Cruz, Brad Pitt, Javier Bardem
Director: Ridley Scott
Runtime: 117 minutes
Genre: Drama, Thriller