Can someone please get Ridley Scott a good script? Please?
Such was my second thought after walking out of his latest film, the impressively cast “The Counselor.” (My first thought was, “Good grief, that was boring.”) Scott’s output as a director has often been viewed as hit or miss, but it’s impossible to deny the impact he’s made on cinema since making an indelible mark with the one-two punch of “Alien” followed by “Blade Runner.” Sometimes it’s the studio that brings him down, as was the case with “Kingdom of Heaven” (the director’s cut is practically a different movie and is a remarkable piece of work as a result). But lately his films have been either mediocre at best (“Body of Lies”) or just flat-out bad (“Prometheus”).
The frustrating part in those latter films is that it’s hardly a case of directorial incompetence or lack of creativity on his part. Particularly in the case of “Prometheus,” it’s largely come down to issues with the script. Scott remains confident (and competent) behind the camera, but given how much control he seems to maintain over his films, I don’t understand why he can’t find better material to work from.
There’s certainly no excuse for that here, given the script is penned by none other than Cormac McCarthy. McCarthy is one of the great modern American authors whose works stand alone well enough, but several of which have been adapted into incredible films as well. Or maybe it’s only the Coen Brothers who truly understand how to bring his work properly to the screen. Then again, this is also McCarthy’s first original screenplay that Scott is working from, but I digress.
Whatever the case, this movie is bad. As in, “This will likely make it on my Worst of 2013 list” bad.
The film follows Michael Fassbender, whom characters only ever address as “counselor.” He’s a lawyer and a highly paid one, too (if his swanky apartments and Bentley are to be judged), though we’re never actually shown what his legal prowess is like. He’s in a relationship with the beautiful Laura (Penelope Cruz), but apparently some massive financial troubles have forced him to take drastic measures. In this case, it’s an attempt to finance a one-time drug deal, ensuring that thousands of kilos of dope make it across the border and into America, potentially landing him a multi-million dollar score.
To do this, though, he’s got to go through Reiner (Javier Bardem), a wealthy businessman who also moonlights as a drug kingpin and whose life is complicated by the presence of his conniving, lascivious girlfriend, Malkina (Cameron Diaz).
Being that this is a Cormac McCarthy story, things go from bad to worse in almost record time after the truck carrying the drugs is hijacked by a rival cartel, leaving Counselor, Laura and Reiner in the crosshairs.
That’s a perfectly solid premise for a tense dramatic thriller. So why is it that this thing nearly put me to sleep on more than one occasion? Maybe it’s because I simply don’t care about anyone involved. I suppose we’re obligated to feel bad for Counselor as he watches his life unravel, but we’re not really given much reason to do so. I mean, yeah, his fiancée is sweet and fairly innocent, but that seems to be the only real decent thing he’s got going in his life. We don’t really see any other aspect of his life, but given that he’s more than willing (and with almost no visible hesitation) to run down a massive drug deal to get out of financial trouble, it stands to reason that his character is pretty far from sterling.
Not that you can fairly compare television to film, but in the case of someone like Walter White in “Breaking Bad,” he had a very valid reason for turning to drug making/dealing and (at least at first) struggled with the very notion of the horrible things he did. Here, Counselor isn’t shown (nor are we even told) to have even a moment’s hesitation before diving head first into a massive criminal enterprise.
It also doesn’t help that nearly every other character surrounding Counselor is more interesting than him. They’re all paper-thin, but at least they’re somewhat colorful. I’d much rather watch a movie of Brad Pitt’s middleman Westray interacting and making deals with Reiner.
There’s just nothing here to latch onto. The film is shot and edited well, but there’s nothing here that really screams “RIDLEY SCOTT MADE THIS.” The cast does the best they can with what they’re given, but what they’re given isn’t much. It honestly feels like the film is missing several scenes that better establish our central character (who ends up almost being pushed to the side in the final stretch) and why we should care about his impending predicament and misfortunes.
I wish there was something in here to recommend even a matinee showing, but as it stands I was ready to walk out of “The Counselor” almost as many times as I nearly fell asleep. (Which would be about three, by my recollection.) Avoid.