(The trailer, writing fraudulent cheques that its movie has no intention of cashing: http://bit.ly/MBm6WI)
If you’ve always wanted to watch a guy you don’t care about argue with people you have no interest in, about a problem you can’t relate to, in accents impossible to understand, for reasons too dull to mention, against a backdrop too boring to remember, then The Counselor could be the movie for you.
Like a depressing cross between Miami Vice, three-day-old roadkill and the Toyota Prius, this is a movie that accelerates from 0 to 30 over two joyless, tension-free hours before ending up in an extremely tedious ditch. Given the pedigrees of writer Cormac McCarthy and director Ridley Scott the whole experience feels a bit like ordering the Tasting Menu with Wine Pairings only to be served some brackish water and a plate of vanilla-flavoured mud.
The film starts at a low point, from which it relentlessly descends, with a deeply uncomfortable mumblecore sex session between Michael Fassbender, the eponymous Counselor, and Penelope Cruz, his part-time lover. The stirring Mexican music, helpfully scored in time to the A-list bumping and grinding, makes the opening scene feel like consummation as sponsored by Taco Bell. TexSex, if you will. Fassbender plays some kind of lawyer who, we gradually discover, has Serious Cash Flow Issues which have led him to get In Over His Head with some Very Bad People with whom he’s partnered up on a Drug Deal Gone Wrong. It’s one of the world’s very most generic plot lines and fails to add anything to the movie except a familiar, wearying sense of disappointment. Equally grating is the fact that everybody insists on calling Fassbender by his professional title ‘Counselor’ rather than his real name, giving the whole film the slightly surreal quality of a very long, passive-aggressive job interview with the Medellin Cartel.
As if to acknowledge the bottomless well of mediocrity towards which the movie is headed, Scott tries to spice things up by throwing Xavier Bardem and Cameron Diaz into the mix as the limp ‘power couple’ of the piece. Bardem plays some kind of middle man in the drug trade who’s hooked Fassbender up with his deal and has also taken the unusual step of dressing like a human clownfish. His wardrobe leaves an indelible trace on the retina until long after the closing credits have gone. Diaz, meanwhile, plays a kind of Botox-ridden Cruella De Vil with an unhealthy Cheetah obsession. She totters around on unsuitable stilettos with the pouty expression of a spoiled teenager whose daddy just bought her the wrong brand of car. We know she’s bad news because she propositions Catholic priests, treats everyone like they’re a cross between between garbage and breakfast, and has sex with car windscreens. The only way Scott could make it clearer that she has a bubbling black witch’s heart would have been to leave a trail of injured kittens in her wake. In amongst this forest of cliches, Brad Pitt pops up now and then as a kind of shit drug-Yoda, dispensing generic Cartel-related advice so useless that it leads to his own grisly death towards the end of the movie. You have so little invested in his character that his severed head hitting the floor packs the kind of emotional punch more usually associated with a parking ticket.
This is a movie so average that, if you cut it, it would bleed banal. But worse than the crushing tedium, the stuttering performances and the all too predictable finale in which everybody dies and Fassbender takes to crying into his fist a lot, is the terrible, terrible dialogue. It’s as if McCarthy woke up one morning and decided that the world needed a script written in the style of a lobotomised Quentin Tarantino. Any movie that contains the phrases “truth has no temperature” and “you cannot buy anything with grief” deserves to be consigned to the depths of celluloid hell – and The Counselor blazes that dubious trail with a special kind of anti-panache. If this were a defendant it would be sent away for life and, with any justice, somebody would throw away the key.