It was about ten minutes into Ridley Scott’s latest offering, the Cormac McCarthy scripted, The Counsellor, when I noticed Javier Bardem’s haircut and was completely lost. So wanton, so unjustifiably garish is it, my train of thought was magnificently derailed in a thunderous blast of sickened and traumatized, perma-gelled bewilderment.
Seriously, you have to see this haircut.
Don’t for a minute though think that I’m taking my reviewing duties lightly or looking at this thing flippantly. The prominent sense of disbelief that I felt as I watched The Counsellor didn’t stem solely from Bardem’s gloriously outlandish do; but it is, I think, a pretty fair embodiment of the general malaise which seems to pervade the whole film. You’ll stare and stare but you’ll have little sense of anything in the world ever seeming sensible again. Overwritten in extremis (much like the bulk of my output on this website), The Counsellor meanders back and forth across the US-Mexico border with a complete lack of discernible intent; it’s a genuine shame to see this writer, this cast and this director produce something so waffling.
Michael Fassbender is the titular Counsellor who, ignoring the warnings of the cautious Westray (Brad Pitt), gets involved in a cross-border drug-deal along with his associate Reiner (the stupendously-coiffured Bardem). Fassbender’s Counsellor is looking at a big score and a happy-ever-after with his fiancée, Laura (Penelope Cruz), but the drugs go walkabout en route to the USA and a vicious Mexican cartel with a penchant for decapitations and snuff films fingers Fassbender for the crime.
You’ve got to admire any film that permits, even insists, that you switch on and remain in active engagement with the material. McCarthy’s wandering dialogue takes on an almost ambient quality, ensuring you keep those ears open lest you skip past some invaluable piece of expository babble. The trouble is, with a film as unashamedly wordy as this it helps if more than the bare minimum of that crucial dialogue filters in as anything more than utter nonsense.
Conversations morph into head-scratching verses of total claptrap with such regularity you wonder if this wasn’t just some shoddily improvised stab at experimentation. We’re treated to such frothy topics of conversation as the existential beauty of diamonds, their relative value on planets other than this one and whether the truth is hot… or not with inssessent and wearying consistency. It’s like Wild 90 with blow instead of booze and a gurning Brad Pitt instead of a barking Norman Mailer.
At the very least you know anything by Ridley Scott will look the business and The Counsellor certainly looks swish. Scott is adept at capturing a kind of rotten, soulless perfection in his subjects; it almost looks like one very long music video or a stupendously unpleasant advert for material wealth.
It’s painfully uninvolving though, with the blame resting principally on the shoulders of a writer who seems to have, momentarily at least, lost his gift for dialogue.
An honourable mention should go to Cameron Diaz leaving a mark as Reiner’s devious girlfriend who seems to know more than she’s letting on. Sadly, almost any narrative intrigue she succeeds in generating is somewhat diluted the moment she roughly shags a car windscreen.
Yeah, you heard me.
15 November 2013 (UK)
Michael Fassbender, Penélope Cruz, Cameron Diaz,Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt