"the film features a number of outstanding set pieces which, in a better-received film, could've entered the canon of memorable, quotable film scenes"
Cormac McCarthy is possibly the world's greatest living author. This is a movie review and it's not my place to get into such a subjective debate but a strong argument could be made for McCarthy's place (among many, many others) at the top of the pile. The announcement, then, that the writer was working on only his second screenplay (his first, filmed as a TV episode in 1976) was met with much enthusiasm. McCarthy's novels The Road and No Country for Old Men were both adapted in recent years so the author's work shouldn't be unfamiliar to cinema-goers, and veteran director Ridley Scott with his strong cast of Michael Fassbender, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem, Penélope Cruz, and Brad Pitt sounds like a match made in heaven. It is disappointing then that The Counsellor might leave audiences wondering why this potentially great film never really materialises.
The film switches location in an instant but focusses, as many of McCarthy's stories do, around American-Mexican boarder towns. Fassbender plays a high-flying lawyer referred to only as 'Counsellor', who decides to get himself mixed up in a colossal drug deal alongside associates Reiner (Bardem) and Westray (Pitt). Oblivious to all this is his fiancé Laura (Cruz), an innocent party who appears as polar opposite to Reiner's girlfriend Malkina (Diaz) who, it quickly emerges, seems to be pulling most of the strings. Naturally the deal goes wrong (we wouldn't have a film otherwise) and The Counsellor sees his world begin to crash down around him; he enters a place he didn't know existed, one of anonymous killings, beheadings, and bizarre tales of car sex.
It is an odd plot with a number of pacing issues. Written as if McCarthy hasn't seen a film before, the writer eschews narrative practice and leaves audiences to fill in some huge blanks, often characters seem disinterested in the plot, keen to follow some tangent philosophising on death or love or something like that. On the page this isn't a problem, McCarthy's script is a joy to read, but over the course of a two hour, seemingly plot-heavy, film the slow pace and abstract asides begin to grate. The author's writing is brilliant, but coming out of Cameron Diaz's mouth it sounds flat and forced.
Ridley Scott seems like an odd choice for director, if he'd adapted No Country for Old Men instead of the Coen brothers it might have turned out much the same way as The Counsellor. It feels like there is too much style and little substance in the film and he doesn't do the writing justice. The stellar cast has produced a string of satisfactory but forgettable performances and once again, the blame probably lies with Scott.
It's not all bad though, the film features a number of outstanding set pieces which, in a better-received film, could've entered the canon of memorable, quotable film scenes. Disappointingly this isn't to be as The Counsellor looks set to be forgotten by audiences worldwide. It is a potentially great screenplay hidden behind a massively flawed film. McCarthy's script (available now in all good book stores!) is fantastic but while it remains in the wrong hands, perhaps his words would be better suited to staying on the page and away from the silver screen.