Friday, October 25

REVIEW: The Counselor

Directed by Ridley Scott
2013 Drama
1 hour 57 minutes
From 20th Century Fox

Michael Fassbender
Penélope Cruz
Cameron Diaz
Javier Bardem
Bruno Ganz
Natalie Dormer
Rosie Perez
John Leguizamo
Goran Visnjic
Rubén Blades
Brad Pitt

I can sum up in two words why I went to see this movie and if you've been paying good attention to these pages then you know what they are: Michael Fassbender.  I've seen all of his films at this point and am thrilled to be seeing another tomorrow.  Some of his movies feel like hot chocolate and a fireplace to me and others, well, others are a little chillier.  The Counselor is one of the latter.

That's not to say it was a total bust... it most certainly wasn't.  Let's start with the director, Ridley Scott.  There will be a spot for him one day in one of my postings on directors.  He has made some fine films indeed... Alien, Blade Runner, Thelma and Louise, White Squall, Gladiator, A Good Year (yes, I loved it) and American Gangster, among others.  I don't think he quite pulled this one off.  It felt a little bit like new territory for him as I see it and I didn't denote many of his signature touches.

The writer is Cormac McCarthy, a prolific novelist of mainly underworld-type tales.  He is the one who gave the world Blood Meridian, All the Pretty Horses, The Road and No Country for Old Men.  He did not adapt any of those works for the big screen but with The Counselor he has embarked on his maiden voyage into the sea of screenwriting and I think he should have had someone throw him a life preserver.

By no means is the entire story a lost cause.  There is a great sense of dread where a basically good-guy lawyer who is a little too greedy for his own good becomes involved in drug-trafficking with dire results.  As he becomes aware of how messed up his life is going to become, Fassbender invests his character with the right amount of doom, all from a writer who knows about scribbling just the right words to capture just the right emotion.  Then there's the fear, treachery, scheming, depravity and torture that visit often in McCarthy's writings and Mexico usually figures in somewhere, too and all are represented well here.

One of the characters has a death scene unlike any I have ever witnessed.  I was blown away by it.  I thought the writing for the main baddie was the best and the acting for this character was also most effective but it would be too revealing to tell you more.  I don't want to have to issue a spoiler alert.  There is also a masturbatory scene involving Cameron Diaz on the windshield of a car that will not soon leave your memory bank once you see it.

Despite McCarthy's ability to write well on the subjects mentioned, the movie is still full of those big ol' potholes that these thriller type films are usually full of.  I've said it before and it's worth repeating... when I find myself saying oh come on once too often, my review will reveal fewer stars.  The main villain has an omnipresence that's just sort of silly.  In real-life, to know so much about so many is ludicrous and in the film it's a bit jarring.  Oh come on...  On the flip side, hey, there is a car chase for those of you who require them to be able to move on to your next movie.  Also while I like cloak and dagger type plots, part of what they do leaves too many things unexplained.  Maybe those writers confuse that with trying to create a sense of mystery but it simply leaves me with too many questions.  Usually as hours and days pass after seeing such films, I often find that I like them less than I did sitting in the theater.

Either the writer or the director could have attracted any of the glittering cast and I, in turn, was certainly attracted by their presence.  Besides my new bff Fassbender, there are Cameron Diaz, Brad Pitt and also Mr. and Mrs. Javier Bardem (she is Penélope Cruz), who have no scenes together.  I am wondering how Bardem felt about his wife's opening scenes in Fassbender's bed.  On my...  All turn in solid performances.

I also loved the photography by Dariusz Wolski.  Whether lovely vistas or seaside homes or the squalor of some Mexican locations, it was all visually stunning.  Ditto the set and art direction and general production design. 

There will be two more visits to the movies over the weekend and so a couple more reviews will come before the next regularly-scheduled Tuesday posting.

Review of 12 Years A Slave

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