The Counselor is a Cumbersome End Product of a High-Minded Writer Slumming It and a Director Searching for Depth

Cameron Diaz and Penélope Cruz in The Counselor.
Cameron Diaz and Penélope Cruz in The Counselor.

The Counselor is the cumbersome end product of a high-minded writer trying to slum and a slick director aiming for cosmic depth.

In his first original screenplay written directly for the screen, novelist Cormac McCarthy takes a holiday from the apocalyptic portentousness of his No Country for Old Men and The Road adaptations, instead giving us a wet-lipped drug dealer (Javier Bardem) with hedgehog hair and a pastel-hued, cactus-laden mansion; a pair of deadly cheetahs; and a constricting weapon that slowly severs heads.

What hasn’t been lost is McCarthy’s wordy speechifying, which undoubtedly aroused director Ridley Scott. The look of The Counselor is smeary and smoggy, as if shot during one long, hot, dirty Los Angeles morning. Yet amid Scott’s chronic fetishizing of various macho odd jobs, from alloying liquid metals to removing bullets, are long-winded monologues about the inherent evil in all of us. It’s a bit like attending Sunday school in a bordello.

Aside from its enjoyably bleak ending, The Counselor generates few thrills, mainly because its pawn -- a corrupt lawyer undone by a botched Mexican drug deal -- is played by Michael Fassbender, a steely, intimidating figure who looks merely sulky when he’s supposed to be in peril.

Cameron Diaz, as Bardem’s two-faced wife, trips over her character’s Barbadian accent, and over impossible lines like "it’s our faintness of heart that drives us to the edge of ruin."

But she still proves irresistible; her angular cheekbones and feline pout resemble Sophia Loren’s, and her spry, gymnastic performance -- in one sequence, she straddles a whole windshield -- is the brightest spot in this joylessly seedy enterprise.

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Javier Bardem and Michael Fassbender in The Counselor.

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