When one of the greatest novelists working in the English language, whose work has been adapted into excellent films, such as No Country for Old Menand The Road, writes his first original screenplay, expectations are naturally high. When legendary director Ridley Scott decides to direct the film, expectations are even higher. The result however is less than the sum of its parts and ultimately disappointing.
The plot is a fairly simple, traditional B-movie setup: a greedy counsellor (Michael Fassbender) gets involved with a Mexican drug cartel headed by Javier Bardem and Cameron Diaz, and from there, things start to go wrong. The theme of the film is that of moral decisions and how they can affect us. There is no point in elaborating on the story, as the film doesn’t really care about it anyway, going on numerous pointless tangents and subplots. While there is no doubt that Cormac McCarthy writes wonderful dialogue, The Counsellor feels overwritten at times and the characters keep embarking on long, poetic speeches instead of getting to the point, which gets more and more frustrating as the film goes on.
Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, the film suffers from a severe lack of fun. A film that has decapitations, Javier Bardem’s arguably maddest haircut to date (!) and Cameron Diaz having an “intimate moment” with the windshield of a Ferrari should be much more fun than it actually is. While the performances are generally quite good (even Cameron Diaz is not quite terrible), all the actors seem to be in awe of the text and therefore a bit tense. The exception to this is Brad Pitt, who drifts in and out of the story giving advice to the counsellor and is easily the best thing in the movie. Looking like a grown-up, more eloquent version of his True Romance-character, Pitt is the only cast member who seems to be enjoying himself (he also has many of the best lines, such as “They [the cartels] don’t believe in coincidences; they’ve heard of them, they’ve just never seen one.”) and whenever he’s on screen the film’s potential becomes visible.
Ultimately The Counsellor, unlike No Country or The Road, is however all style and little substance and most crucially fails to create any kind of mood or atmosphere, nor memorable characters. On a more positive note, it is never really boring and shot beautifully, but never lives up to what you expect from the talent involved.