Saturday, 16 November 2013

The Counsellor

The Counsellor
Ridley Scott // 2013 // 117 mins

The Counsellor follows Michael Fassbender's titular protagonist, a successful lawyer who enters into a drug-trafficking arrangement with power couple Reiner (Javier Bardem) and Malinka (Cameron Diaz) and business associate Westray (Brad Pitt). When the deal turns sour the Counsellor must protect himself and his new fiancé Laura (Penelope Cruz) as the group are left to fend for themselves against the higher ups that want them dealt with.

The Counsellor is a refreshing thriller in concept, as it places such a value on dialogue over excessive action and strives to use engaging writing to create both drama and thrills as opposed to the familiar onslaught of blood and explosions. However it unfortunately misses this proposed mark as it becomes unfocused; overindulging in dialogue that is extremely dense, and with a lack of action to balance it out the film often drifts into long stretches of dullness. With such an accomplished author as Cormac McCarthy putting words in these characters mouths there is a clear level of quality to the script, but with a plot already so convoluted it only takes a handful of these dialogue-heavy scenes for the whole thing to become uninteresting and hard to follow.

The writing can by no means be held completely accountable here though, as Ridley Scott has clearly struggled to bring McCarthy's complex screenplay to life. Tonally, the film has a difficult time trying to tap into a definitive identity; playing it too straight for a film that features so much sleaze, and indulging in said sleaze too much for it to ever be taken so seriously. The film would have greatly benefitted from playing up to it's more outlandish elements and enjoying success as a trashy thriller, but even then the 'thriller' aspect of the film would need a hefty facelift. There are two simple but surefire ways to make a narrative tense, speed up the action or slow it down. Rather than commit to either of these Scott and McCarthy settle on an unenjoyable middle-ground where a series of events that feel like they should be fast-paced and dramatically intercut are instead drawn out so as to cash in on all possible dialogue opportunities. The end result makes for frustrating viewing and causes the film to feel much longer than it's near two hour runtime, with no true sense of crescendo or conclusion (or actual structure at all for that matter). And while the final scene is probably one of the films best, there is no real opportunity given to enjoy it as, unless you have been clock-watching, it is near-impossible to identify as a final scene, until it ends and the credits start rolling.

The cast assembled here is one certain to impress and draw in the majority of the films audience, however it feels as though none of these actors have been challenged to do anything truly spectacular with the work. Cameron Diaz as Malinka is the most impressive, but this is certainly down to impeccable styling and her character being by far the most fascinating; receiving the best, or at least most memorable, material to work with. Fassbender is perhaps the most disappointing of the bunch simply because of the standard he has previously set for himself. His character has what should be the most emotionally engaging arc of the narrative yet his performance never feels very convincing, a matter that is not helped by the fact that his romance with Laura is poorly developed and amounts to little more than dirty talk; eliminating any real sense of severity to their plight. Javier Bardem gives good hair and Brad Pitt does well in a glorified cameo but nobody excels here and all have been much better.

Despite the presence of an all-star cast and a script penned by one of the most revered authors of recent times, The Counsellor fails to live up to the promise of the talent involved. What could have been a tense and trashy thriller is instead a confused mess that relies too heavily on a script that simply isn't engaging enough to hold an entire film. Failing to find a solid pace and make the most out of it's cast, The Counsellor is sadly an example of missed opportunities.

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