What do you get when you combine four very well-known actors, director Ridley Scott, and author Cormac McCarthy? Well, you get a lot of things, one of which is a lesson in the consequences of your choices and where that can lead you. Though the film is not necessarily a love or hate it kind of scenario, The Counselor is not everyone’s cup of tea in terms of execution.
The Counselor (Michael Fassbender) is completely in love with his girlfriend Laura (Penélope Cruz) to the point of flying all the way to Amsterdam in order to buy her a certain diamond cut from a well-known jeweler. And why not? The Counselor is a wealthy lawyer, living in so much luxury it might make your eyes bleed of jealousy.
But that’s not enough. The Counselor makes what he believes is a harmless choice in getting involved with a drug trafficking deal with Westray (Brad Pitt), Reiner (Javier Bardem), and Reiner’s malicious girlfriend Malkina (Cameron Diaz).
Westray and Reiner ask the Counselor several times before they make the deal if this is something he’s sure about doing. The Counselor considers it but in the end sees no harm in making one deal even though he is warned that once he starts dealing with illegal drug activities, he can’t go back.
Between the loading, shipment, and delivery of the drugs, the deal goes awry and the drug cartel goes on the hunt of everyone involved regardless of whether they think they’re innocent or not. After all, someone has to pay, and the Counselor ultimately finds himself way in over his head.
Of course the cast is excellent. It’s hard not to be with Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Javier Bardem, Cameron Diaz, and Penélope Cruz leading the movie. Fassbender is fantastic as always, the scene of his breakdown at the reality he faces is superb. Brad Pitt’s character is confident in what he’s doing, all business-like. Javier Bardem is a little crazy and gives us a little bit of humor, though questions his own sanity at being in love with Diaz.
Penélope Cruz is the least guilty of all the characters and her fear and panic are palpable. And Cameron Diaz, after several duds and mediocre films, gives her best performance in years as Malkina. She’s vicious, scheming, and dangerous. Even Bardem’s character is very afraid of her.
A lot of aspects of the film are purposefully vague, giving us enough story, but leaving things out, making the story seem almost incomplete on purpose. The ruthlessness of the drug cartel is realistic. They don’t bargain, and they don’t play nice. And after all is said and done, consequences are played out, and the Counselor is at his wit’s end, comes the best moral discussion in the entire film when the Counselor is told that it doesn’t matter what he should or shouldn’t have done. He made a choice and all that matters now is his reality. The discussion of morals and choices is pretty deep.
We all know Ridley Scott is a great director and Cormac McCarthy is a good author, and while the movie is good, there are a couple of things that don’t quite work. One of these things are the long-winded moral discussions the characters are constantly having with each other at different points in the film. Yes, that’s McCarthy’s style, but it doesn’t quite work the exact same way on film as it does on paper.
The Counselor is the type of film you can thoroughly appreciate for what it is and what it tries to accomplish, yet won’t be satisfying for everyone. Focus and attention are required since it’s not a miss-five-minutes-and-still-know-what’s-going-on kind of film. Everything discussed in the first act comes to fruition at some point in the film and there is a payoff, though some of the character interactions are a little too steeped in lectures of philosophy and the like. The cast is excellent and the story generally well-formed, though it’s ultimately not enough to make it an exceptional film.