“The Counselor” is anything but subtle. It’s also not very inventive. The film’s advisory philosophy and views on moral dilemmas and greed are made in the first few minutes, leaving the audience with an additional hour-and-a-half of grueling inevitability. Scant mystery is offered as conspicuous conversations forewarn of the dismal fate that will befall all involved. While Cormac McCarthy’s novels have garnered much acclaim for their style and ideology, the original screenplay for “The Counselor” attempts to simply replicate the elements the author has become known for, rather than provide a new vision. Glaring violence, the warlike nature of man, and even a nameless protagonist appear as monotonous staples and weaken any sense of distinction. It’s as if the script was made up of the conservative moments of an “unfilmable” McCarthy story and all the worthwhile sequences didn’t make it into the picture.
Despite numerous admonishments about the destructive power of greed, the Counselor (Michael Fassbender) agrees to invest in a shipment of drugs coming from Juarez, Mexico. His friends Reiner (Javier Bardem) and Westray (Brad Pitt) both support and chide his decision, but with his recent proposal to girlfriend Laura (Penelope Cruz), the Counselor determines such a venture essential to his financial betterment. When the truck carrying the drugs is hijacked, and the murdered driver coincidentally links back to the Counselor, the enraged cartel begins hunting down the attorney and all those associated with him. Forced to make a quick getaway, the lawyer must make a choice that will affect the lives of all he holds dear.
McCarthy’s screenplay is trying to convey a message that was obvious from the beginning. But its delivery is so heavy-handed, blunt, and grating that there is no room for charming subtlety or slowly unveiled cleverness. It’s beaten into the viewer’s mind through tyrannical repetition. In an attempt to mimic an oversevere Tarantino, crafting alternately absurdly sexual accounts and cryptically wordy conversations, “The Counselor” couldn’t be further from the amusing variant it sought. The opening scene is almost laughable in its romantic phoniness (a later phone sex sequence in which the audience is only privy to the man’s words is also conspicuously inefficient) and the significant details in verbal observations betray a complete lack of delicacy – such that when a tale is told, particulars are included and they becomes a plot device that makes a downstream appearance.
This results in a cautionary story of bleak proportions, with disagreeable characters encountering dissatisfying endings. Anticipation looms, but its not thrilling; in a way, it manifests a sense of dread, knowing that grisly things will take place solely because they were alluded to earlier in the script. And there’s a lot of waiting – nearly an hour passes before the protagonist is fully aware of his unintentional implications and grim elements start to surface. But empathy is slippery as the characters are knowledgeably fueled by avarice, naivety, and a false sense of superiority. It’s very much McCarthy and very unentertaining.
– The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)