The Cormac McCarthy-penned The Counselor (2013) is a mess, but like all star-studded disasters, it’s an interesting mess. But it's one made tiresome after the first hour comes to a close and its philosophical monologues and its pulp displays begin to lose their luster. It’s undone by McCarthy’s inability to devise a screenplay not arrantly smitten with its own commentaries and by director Ridley Scott’s inefficiency in deciding whether to helm the film as a bleak morality tale or a supremely dark screwball comedy. Its initial punchiness quickly descending into the trappings of indecipherable insufferability, its near two-and-a-half-hour running time eventually turns into cinematic torture, as does watching the performances of a cast with no other choice but to portray cutthroat loons gratingly melodramatically.
The film is the result of McCarthy’s first original screenplay after years of adaptations of his most widely revered literary works. With the exception of 2007’s No Country for Old Men and 2009’s The Road, most have lived up to the expectation that no movie is ever as good as the novel from which it’s based. His prose dependently mannered and coated in sticky subtext, things are more easily left on the page than they are brought to the big screen. There’s too much content, too many hidden meanings, to be covered within the walls of a feature length.
It stars Michael Fassbender as its eponymous protagonist, a high-level cartel lawyer who, by any standards, is the man most of the male population strives to become in their youth. Financially savvy, broodingly handsome, and steadfastly cool, he’s a vision of success, especially so as a consequence of his recent engagement to the beautiful Laura (a wasted Penélope Cruz). But like a lot of men suffering from ennui after reaching the top of the food chain too early in their professional lives, The Counselor, looking for a thrill, decides to get involved in the drug trade and try his hand at prosperity there.
The rest of the movie circles around his descent into criminality, and, being so thematically heavy, additionally throws in reminders, visual or otherwise, that we cannot outgun the hands of fate, that we must accept the fact that much of our world is evil, and that indulging grief is a pointless endeavor. But it’s ugly, lurid, and, eventually, boring (if you can even call a movie wherein Cameron Diaz — aka The Counselor’s only asset worth praising — fucks a car, Benedict Arnold’s everyone, and wins the day boring). Its obnoxiousness, at first appealingly unrestrained, proves to be flexible and finally disappears up its own overblown ass. Just notice how Javier Bardem looks and talks and you’ll know what I mean.
Because it stands as McCarthy’s first time piecing together a script not already based upon his own highly methodical texts, most of what comes across the screen is laced in pretension, the monologues more impenetrable streams of consciousness and the symbolic representations so obvious to their core that we ultimately come to resent the way McCarthy almost seems to expect that his usual intellectual flourishes will earn him the same sort of acclaim to have followed him throughout his career. That doesn’t work for The Counselor; all sensational malice intermixed with allegories too operatic and conspicuous to much care about, it’s an unpleasant labyrinth of ideas that never quite stick cinematically. D+