THE COUNSELOR: Twentieth Century Fox. Out November 7th. , 2013. Starring: Michael Fassbender, Penelope Cruz, Brad Pitt, Javier Bardem,and Cameron Diaz, directed by Ridley Scott. Rated MA15+. Restricted. (Strong Bloody violence and sex scenes). 117 min.
This is an American thriller film which has a stellar cast, and is the first film screen play written by the respected author, Cormac McCarthy.
The Counselor in the title of the movie refers to an unnamed, naive lawyer (Michael Fassbender), who decides to traffic in illegal drugs with his business partner, Reiner (Javier Bardem). He is romantically involved with Laura (Penelope Cruz), who is ignorant of what he actually does. Laura eventually becomes caught up in the criminal world of the drug culture, and ends her life as a tragic victim of its violence.
The Counselor tries to negotiate a haul of cocaine that Is being carried on a sewerage truck. An associate, Westray (Brad Pitt), who is a middle-man in the deal, warns him of the danger of what he is doing, but The Counselor persists. The drug deal goes predictably wrong when the truck is hijacked by an opposing cartel. The Counselor turns to Reiner to save him from drug-lord vengeance. Throughout the movie, The Counselor, Reiner, Westray and others talk about being forced to make moral decisions, and nearly every character in the film is double-crossed in some way.
This is indisputably Ridley Scott's attempt to direct a black, "noir" film with all of the typical features of that genre. Noir movies are characterised by a great deal of violence, sex, and mistrust, and focus reliably on the negative features of human nature. The film includes a grizzly decapitation scene; there is a particularly bloody strangulation towards its end; and there is an explosive, sex scene involving Bardem's on-screen girl friend, Malkina (Cameron Diaz), on the top of his Ferrari car, while Reiner watches her from the seat of the car fascinated by the experience. His "noir" comment on Malkina' s sexual antics is that it is "too gynaecological to be sexy".
The film plays fast and loose with any values remotely related to goodness. Malkina, for example, goes to confession to a Priest to try to arouse him. She is not a Catholic and simply wants to shock the young Priest with revelations of her wild behaviour. The scene is pointless except to demonstrate to us that everything to Malkina is sexual.
This film had the potential to be much better than it is, and it is a disappointing attempt by Ridley Scott to play everything on the dark side. It has a great cast and a talented director, but the film ends up being a confusing mix of speculations about life (such as "grief transcends value" and "actions create consequences that form new worlds"), and sub-plots that aim to thrill. Throughout the movie, the film meditates on capitalism, moral choice, and fatalism, and engages in frequent conversations about life and death issues. However, it punctuates all of its musings with violence.
The film's saving grace is the cool proficiency with which Scott Ridley directs some of the movie's scenes. He is a master of framed shots and he uses landscape, colour-toning, and cinema long-shots brilliantly. But this is not enough to rescue the movie's overall coherence. It is a film that panders heavily to providing thrills, and perhaps its unfortunate tag-line - "sin is a choice" - says it all.
Peter W Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.
Twentieth Century Fox.
Out November 7th 2013.