The Counselor has a lot of things going for it.
Some of the biggest names in Hollywood: Michael Fassbender the Counselor (did you see him in Cronenberg’s Dangerous Method playing Carl Jung? He’s terrific.); Javier Bardem (see him in Cormac McCarthy’s No Country For Old Men or the new Bond Skyfall, if you haven’t already– is there a better villain around?); Cameron Diaz (she’s really good in this. You can’t take your eyes off her or her cheetahs. She’s an athletic femme fatale who occasionally likes to straddle the windshields of convertibles. As the Bardem character says, it’s a little too gynecological. (I’m not making this up.)); Penélope Cruz (she plays a nicey nice person in the movie, maybe a little too innocent to be believable); and Brad Pitt (his character and performance remind me of an early Pitt, the cowboy in Thelma and Louise). All the actors perform their parts superbly, including Bruno Ganz (remember him from Wings of Desire?) the Diamond Dealer.
A renowned director, Ripley Scott. He belongs in the pantheon of directors for Blade Runner alone.
A world-class writer, Cormac McCarthy. The Road and No Country For Old Men are great novels of our time. McCarthy wrote the screenplay for The Counselor. You’d expect great things.
So: 1 + 1+ 1 = 3? No, 1 + 1 +1 = 0
All these assets – beautiful people doing ugly things in a beautiful landscape—don’t seem to add up to anything; the parts are greater than the whole.
You have no back story to the characters, so they just show up, talk, and exit, and all the viewer knows of them is what they are in the moment they give their lines. There’s no plot. A drug deal meets with glitches and hiccups. End of story.
In the monologues and dialogues of the movie, there are some arresting lines. I’m going by memory here:
“Do you want to know why Jesus wasn’t born in Mexico?”
“No virgins. And they couldn’t find three wise men.”
When Cameron’s character (Malkina) is accused of being too cold. Her reply is that the truth doesn’t have a temperature.
There are some arresting images. Cameron Diaz in a cowgirl hat and a cheetah tattoo looks sensational. Javier Bardem’s electric-socket haircut stays with you. Fassbender and Cruz’s opening scene of playing and talking under the sheets stays with you. A cheetah at full-throttle is a beautiful animal.
The theme of the movie, if it has one, appears to be that innocence in this world gets stepped on. You don’t get points for being naïve or sweet. The sweetest character, Cruz’s Laura, ends up in a dump heap and the most naïve character, the Counselor himself (Fassbender), lives a troubled and conflicted life. His once emotionless face acquires furrows and wrinkles as the movie descends into blackness.