'The Counselor' Review: Phony Morality Tale Trips Up A-List Cast

Writer Cormac McCarthy is better known as a novelist than a screenwriter. He penned the novels that were adapted into films like All the Pretty Horses, The Road and the Oscar-winning No Country for Old Men.

But in The Counselor, his first cinematic screenplay, the writer fails to present interesting or thought-provoking characters. Instead, his forgettable figures exist to speak poetically to one another.


Michael Fassbender stars as a suave lawyer whose clients refer to him simply as “counselor.” He and his fiancé Laura (Penelope Cruz) live a luxurious and seemingly carefree life, which is financed because the counselor is all too willing to work with thieves, monsters and sociopaths. He knows what they do and they know what he does, and both sides feel like they are getting a good deal out of the situation.

Inevitably, the malicious personalities that he surrounds himself with believe he has become one of them. He is, they argue, indirectly responsible for some of their fortunes falling apart. So when a drug trafficking situation gets out of control, the counselor is left dealing with the consequences.

The cast assembled here is packed with major actors trying to bring bland characters to life, but there’s only so much an actor can do with this pretentious script. As Laura, Cruz has very little to do while Brad Pitt and Javier Bardem, who play two of the counselors’ closest allies, simply seem to exist to inform the counselor that he’s in over his head and must get out. An unfortunately miscast Cameron Diaz also stars here as a malicious woman who knows few boundaries (sexual or otherwise).

The story’s greatest issue isn’t the acting or Ridley Scott’s directing. It’s the script itself that manages to dull even the most exciting and provocative parts of the stories. At first, some of the dialogue pops but it becomes so nonsensical and broad that it loses its effect.

“I think truth has no temperature,” “you don’t know someone until you know what they want” and “if your definition of a friend is someone who will die for you, then you don’t have any friends” are three of the throwaway lines here. As a writer, McCarthy seems to have fallen into the temptation of trying to infuse his story with too many metaphors and high-minded dialogue. It’s a decision that will likely lose some of the audience who just want to understand more clearly what’s happening onscreen.

It is oftentimes hard to decipher the plot here because few of the characters speak like real people. Nor does anyone stand out in this convoluted tale of greed, sex and money. As a whole The Counselor seems to be making an interesting argument about how people who surround themselves with criminals and lowlifes eventually become them or will become mistaken for them but this story does that concept no favors. A strong cast can’t save The Counselor from its own weaknesses.

This film should be quickly dismissed from a theater near you.


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