by Michael Walters
The Cantankerous Critic
“The Counselor” is a byzantine, interconnected, and overly verbose drug thriller that takes its time getting going, but ruthlessly ratchets up the tension once it hits cruising speed.
Michael Fassbender plays the title character. He’s a slick and newly engaged lawyer, who is led by greed to try a little drug-running on the side. He’s got debts to pay, an engagement ring to buy, and he needs a quick influx of easy money to keep himself and his new fiancée (Penelope Cruz) in the lifestyle to which they’ve become accustomed.
So he hooks up with a shady El Paso club owner (Javier Bardem, in the bright fashions and spikey hair that suggest he’s on a never-ending coked-up Miami Beach bender), and a middleman played by Brad Pitt. They set up a deal to smuggle $20 million in drugs for a Mexican drug cartel over the border.
Fassbender expects to just sit back and watch the money roll in, but in about the time it takes to mix a martini, things begin to fall apart.
Author Cormac McCarthy has created a world where everyone from the diamond merchant to the doorman speaks in flowery prose, ruminating on the mysteries of life, and the sorrow that lurks just beneath an appearance of happiness.
But the dialogue only really comes alive in the hands of Brad Pitt. With his slow drawl and cowboy hat, he may seem easygoing, but he’s just a man who’s been playing with fire a little too long and knows it. He thinks he’s got his endgame figured out, but the film’s devastatingly pessimistic worldview won’t let anyone off easy.
The weak link in the otherwise dynamite cast is Cameron Diaz. She plays Bardem’s smart, scheming love interest. She’s a cougar who is introduced watching a pet cheetah devour a jackrabbit. She schemes wildly, crashes a confessional booth, and makes love to the windshield of a sportscar. You can almost hear Diaz straining as she attempts to stretch to embody this overly worldy and ruthless maneater.
It’s slow going for the first half or so, as the film introduces its characters, and the complex paths it will take its audience on – paths so complex, even the filmmakers seem to get a little lost in the weeds.
However, that merely sets up a second half that proceeds at a breakneck pace as the criminal world begins to collapse around them. It’s not the home run you might have expected, but it gets the job done.