Directed by Ridley Scott (Prometheus), The Counselor stars Michael Fassbender (Shame) as a nondescript lawyer whose one-time dalliance with the dangerous world of drug trafficking spirals out of control.
With a screenplay by Cormac McCarthy, the novelist who wrote No Country for Old Men and The Road, The Counselor is a chronicle of destruction – a bleak and brutal story of greed and the inevitability of suffering and violence.
Fassbender’s character, simply known as Counselor, gets mixed up with Reiner (Javier Bardem), a charismatic businessman who moonlights as a drug lord. Reiner lives an extravagant life complete with exotic clothes, high-end sports cars, and a ultra-modern villa populated with buff bodyguards and gorgeous women in bikinis.
Among those women is his girlfriend, Malkina (Cameron Diaz), a femme fatale who is in control at all times. Malkina is a hunter – a predator – with an affinity for watching her two pet cheetahs chase jackrabbits across the Chihuahuan Desert. Reiner knows he isn’t the smartest man and begins to suspect that the cunning Malkina will be his undoing.
But once the scheme is set in motion, it can’t be stopped. There are higher laws in the universe than those of man, and the Counselor is caught up in a series of fateful events that are beyond his control. Like No Country for Old Men and The Road, The Counselor is a film about the frailty of human existence, the futility of the human condition, and the inevitability of death.
McCarthy and Scott paint in broad strokes here – it’s easy to see the themes they’re working in, but it’s much harder to understand what’s actually going on in terms of plot. Like Scott’s last film, Prometheus, The Counselor is more concerned with being verbose and vague than connecting the dots of its complex narrative. It is consistently compelling and full of shocking twists, but I’m not sure it makes much sense.
There are great performances though; Fassbender, Bardem, and Pitt are terrific. My biggest issue with The Counselor, however, is Cameron Diaz as Malinka. Her performance as a femme fatale is never quite believable – it feels more like Diaz pretending to be a femme fatale.
An actress like Angelina Jolie, Charlize Theron, or Eva Green would have been a far better match for the ruthless, seductive nature of Malkina. Diaz’s underwhelming presence doesn’t entirely derail Scott’s film (McCarthy’s clumsy script beats her to the punch), but she certainly doesn’t add anything to the proceedings.
For a film with such potential – directed by Sir Ridley Scott, written by Cormac McCarthy, and starring such an impressive ensemble (Diaz notwithstanding) – The Counselor is a disappointment. It’s a borderline incoherent thriller that is as mean-spirited as it is meaningless.