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The Counselor - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
The Counselor
Directing: B
Acting: B+
Writing: B-
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B-

The first half of The Counselor moves so slowly, it's sure to test many viewers' patience. Honestly it's the biggest reason I can't particularly recommend it to anyone, even though I found it compelling, if somewhat baffling. My most measures, though, even as the decent movie it is, it would qualify as a disappointment. One would expect something better, with another film not only based on a Cormac McCarthy novel (whose novels were also the basis of No Country for Old Men and The Road), but on which McCarthy both executive produced and wrote the screenplay. Combine that with director Ridley Scott, and The Counselor falls well short of expectations.

Granted, Ridley Scott, with some great films in his early career, hasn't exactly had the best past decade. But he assembles a stellar cast here: Michael Fassbender as the title character, in love with a woman (Penélope Cruz) destined to be his Achilles' heel as he gets in over his head with a drug deal from Juarez, Mexico while in El Paso. You don't see El Paso in movies much. By all appearances here, it's with good reason.

Then we see Javier Bardem, in another crazy haircut, as the friend who brokers the deal; Cameron Diaz as his mysteriously conniving girlfriend; and Brad Pitt as the insider who helps and then, well, doesn't.

Cameron Diaz is arguably the most compelling here, and that's partly because her character, rich for unknown reasons, is so eccentric it borders on the cartoonish. When we first meet her, she's watching her pet leopards hunt down rabbits. (The leopards later get a strangely serene escape scene, right after something rather gruesome occurs.) Later there's a sex scene, in which Diaz literally does the splits against a car windshield, that borders on camp.

It's possible that's why I kind of liked this movie. The reviews have been decidedly mixed, and so are my feelings about it, but I found it strangely compelling, even as it befuddled me. If nothing else, the performances are solid. The movie just takes weird turns, right from the beginning. It opens with cunnilingus. There are not one, but two beheadings. It seems safe to say that Cormac McCarthy is fascinated with the darker side of human nature. The sexual side of it, not so much perhaps -- that is presented as a byproduct of either people's weaknesses or their greed. There's not a lot of sex in this movie, actually, but when there is, it's . . . memorable.

The Counselor is extremely dialogue-heavy, to the point where it can get easy to lose track of what's going on, largely because it doesn't feel like a whole lot is going on -- just talking. A great deal of time is spent establishing the characters, although their motivations are not always clear. In fact, Cameron Diaz is an interesting choice to play what basically amounts to a villain, and she does it surprisingly well. The problem with her is that a motive is never revealed.

This does seem to be a hallmark of McCarthy's stories, where they either have no morals or morality is rendered irrelevant. Some people are just plain bad. I'm not sure that's any part of the message in The Counselor, though; I could not discern any particular point, aside from telling an oddly subversive story about a public defender. It catches you by surprise, at least. For some, that would count as patience reaping its reward. For others, it would merely be because the first half is kind of a snooze fest.

I'm essentially in the middle. The Counselor is above average overall, but ultimately forgettable. Except for maybe that windshield bit.

<i>The Counselor</i> ((Michael Fassbender) doesn&apos;t know what&apos;s going on any better than we do.

Overall: B
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