DVD Release Date: February 11, 2014
Theatrical Release Date: October 25, 2013
Rating: R (for graphic violence, some grisly images, strong sexual content and language)
Genre: Drama/Crime
Run Time: 117 min.
Director: Ridley Scott
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Penélope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt, Rosie Perez

Celebrated novelist Cormac McCarthy has never been one for writing feel-good stories. From the disturbing No Country For Old Men, which earned four Academy Awards in 2007 including Best Picture, to the grim post-apocalyptic tale, The Road, his work has still made for some pretty thrilling cinema.

Now with The Counselor, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author is venturing into brand new territory by adapting his own work. Trouble is, while screenplays are decidedly different from their literary counterparts because the writer is given freedom to show and tell, success still hinges upon thoughtful exposition and character development. Unfortunately, The Counselor is sorely lacking in both, so the end product is basically a frustrating cautionary tale on how getting mixed up in drug trafficking doesn't pay. Does anyone really need to watch a movie to learn that?

Even with a gaggle of A-list talent onboard, including director Ridley Scott (Prometheus) who usually provides a reliable eye for memorable visuals (he does here, too, but for all the wrong reasons), The Counselor is nothing more than a head-scratching string of scenes that don't propel the threadbare narrative forward. Worse yet, McCarthy never gives the viewer a reason to care. Never have characters been this unlikable or inconsequential.

The "plot" involves a lawyer (Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave) who's never called by any other name but "Counselor" for the duration of the film. For someone smart enough to make it through law school, pass the Bar and defend people in precarious legal situations, Counselor, like the hapless protagonists who inevitably meet their grisly end in your average horror movie, stunningly ignores numerous warnings about the "one-time" drug smuggling adventure he's about to embark upon.

And considering the ethics of the people offering their two cents, namely Counselor's shady, larger-than-life clients Reiner (Javier Bardem, Skyfall), his leopard-loving gal pal Malkina (Cameron Diaz, Knight and Day) and one very greasy middleman Westray (Brad Pitt, World War Z), one would assume Counselor would at least weigh his options. But for whatever reason, sheer stupidity or otherwise, Counselor believes he can emerge unscathed. As it turns out, Counselor's end game is obtaining a quick but hefty payout so he can run off into the sunset with his beloved fiancée Laura (Penélope Cruz, To Rome With Love).

Of course, we all know that Cormac is no writer of romance, and everything spirals ridiculously out of control. Instead of dazzling the viewer with a clever cat-and-mouse game, however, the filmmakers never find their footing with their unconventional approach. Random bursts of violence and bizarre sexual displays surely keep the audience guessing, but all these tasteless spectacles do little for the film's bottom line.

Truly, it takes far more than a slew of celebrity talent to make a movie memorable, and no amount of weird get-ups for Bardem, shock-jock antics from Diaz or beautifully framed shots from Scott is going to accomplish that here. What The Counselor lacks desperately is a compelling story, or at least a unique point of view that works. Since that wasn't in the cards, however, we've got one of the world's most acclaimed writers philosophizing about a whole lot of nothing. And to that - not to mention the film's many other shortcomings - audiences should object.

CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers):

  • Drugs/Alcohol: Illegal drugs, particularly cocaine, figure prominently into the plot. A man is shown smoking a joint. Social drinking.
  • Language/Profanity: A handful of f-bombs, plus instances where God's name is misused. Sh--, as- dam- and he-- are also said occasionally.
  • Sex/Nudity: Crude references to female anatomy and various sexual acts. Oral sex is performed on a woman in the opening scene (no nudity but Laura's reaction to what's happening is shown). A lengthy scene where a woman pleasures herself on top of Reiner's car in public. Malkina sports a few skimpy swimsuits at the pool where quite a bit of her naked body is shown from the side. Malkina makes a quasi-pass at Laura in the same scene.
  • Violence: A man driving a motorcycle at a very high speed is purposely tripped up by a wire that ends up not only tipping the bike over but beheading him in the process. We see his head rolling around on the road. Several people are shot multiple times at very close range. A device is placed around a man's neck that keeps getting tighter and tighter until it decapitates him. He's shown in the middle of a busy London street struggling and his blood is spurting everywhere. A woman is kidnapped, and we later see her torso intermingled with a large pile of trash at the local dump.

Publication date: October 25, 2013