Wednesday, October 30, 2013
FILM REVIEW OF "THE COUNSELOR" (2013)
Watching the star-studded Ridley Scott drug smuggling caper “The Counselor” (**** OUT OF ****) is like paying to be a participant in a “Scared Straight” program. “Scared Straight” is that fear-inducing program where juveniles are given a taste of what to expect if they pursue the path of evil. Hopefully, the convicts who intimidate the juveniles in “Scared Straight” frighten them out of a notorious life of criminal endeavor. In “The Counselor,” a well-to-do Texas attorney gets himself caught up in a narcotics smuggling scheme and learns first-hand the meaning of Murphy’s Law. Everything that can go wrong for our ill-fated protagonist does go wrong, and the hardened hellions who surround him warn him at every turn to back out before it is too late. Michael Fassbender top-lines a stellar cast of familiar faces that include Penélope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Oscar-winner Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt, Rosie Perez, Rubén Blades, and Goran Visnjic. In most Hollywood crime melodramas, the good guys win in the end, but “The Counselor” has no winners except its toxic felons. If you abhor movies were evil triumphs over virtue, “The Counselor” is definitely not for you. You aren’t tempted to sympathize for anybody. “Alien” director Ridley Scott and Pulitzer Prize winner author Cormac McCarthy have combined their considerable talents to craft a movie that is incredibly chilling. For the record, Cormac McCarthy is the same fellow who wrote the novel that the Coen brothers turned into the movie “No Country for Old Men". Brad Pitt’s death scene in “The Counselor” alone is worth the price of admission if you can keep your hands away from your eyes.
The hero in “The Counselor” (Michael Fassbender of “The Centurion”) is known only as ‘the Counselor.’ Nobody ever addresses him by either his first or last name. This El Paso attorney has wind in his sails. Successful and savvy, he cruises around in a convertible Bentley and appears to want for nothing. Happily, he has landed the lady of his dreams, Laura (Penélope Cruz of “All the Pretty Horses”), and he dotes so dearly on her that he flies to Amsterdam personally to choose the diamond for her wedding ring. Little does Laura know is that her handsome fiancé has gone into business with a couple of low-class dastards living high off the hog. A shady night club owner named Reiner (Javier Bardem of “No Country for Old Men”) who has snorted one line too many and a smooth-talking cowboy, Westray (Brad Pitt of “Thelma & Louise”), both warn ‘the Counselor’ repeatedly that he should turn tail and light out. Indeed, “The Counselor” amounts to a Biblical caveat to flee evil. Our naive hero has bought himself a piece of a $20-million cocaine caper with the shipment of smack destined to be delivered to Chicago. Meanwhile, beneath the border in old Mexico, the cartel seals up their product in large, air-tight barrels and conceals them in squat, heavy, septic truck that looks like it could go bumper-to- bumper with an armored car in a demolition derby and win. The in-joke is that one of those barrels contains the pickled body of a Colombian who has endlessly been shipped back-and-forth like a joker in a deck of cards for whoever finds him. When he is found, he is resealed and shipped off with a qualm. The bad guys get the vehicle across the border safely without a hassle, but another bunch of thieves later hijack the truck. Not only do they steal the truck, but they also decapitate one of their motorcycle adversaries called “The Green Hornet” with a wire strung across the highway! Death is as horrifically gruesome here as it was in any “Saw” sagas. These guys and their cronies don’t fare any better. They are waylaid by another pair of cartel gunsels masquerading as Texas Rangers and die in a fierce gunfight. An innocent motorist driving up to the scene of the shoot-out by accident desperately struggles to elude lead, but he doesn’t stand a chance of making a clean getaway. The surviving cartel gunman calmly reloads his machine-pistol and riddles the poor slob’s truck. Not even the innocent bystanders have a chance in “The Counselor!”
“The Counselor” boasts an array of vicious but memorable villains. Cameron Diaz of the “Charlie’s Angels” epics stands out more prominently than either Javier Bardem or Brad Pitt. The femme fatale that she plays crossed the moral line between good and evil so far back that even if she looked back, she would never see that line. We are told the only thing that she remembers about her parents was the sight of seeing them hurled from a helicopter at age three. Vulgar wench that she is, her idea of sport involves turning her pair of pet cheetahs loose on jack rabbits in the desert at dawn. Malkina, as she is called, has cheetah spots tattooed all over her back, loves to masturbate on her boyfriend’s Ferrari windshield, and goes to confession as a joke to regale the priest with her tawdry tales. As it turns out, she is the evil mastermind behind the thief of the smack. Who says women cannot be bad girls? When scenarist Cormac McCarthy isn’t creating devilishly, overwrought villains, he conjures up some of the most poetic dialogue that you will ever hear. Meanwhile, Scott and “Crimson Tide” lenser Dariusz Wolski have created a movie that on the basis of its elegant cinematography will take your breath away when the hair on your back isn’t standing up. Altogether, “The Counselor” qualifies as a superb but corrosive crime thriller with harrowing death scenes that you won’t forget after the rest of the action has faded from your memory. There are no happy endings here for anybody. Spectators who love to challenge themselves to see how much offensive material they can swallow before losing their cookies will probably be the only ones that will truly appreciate Scott’s masterpiece of amoral horror.