Wednesday, 20 November 2013

The Counsellor (18)

There was quite the buzz of excitement when it was revealed multi-award winning author Cormac McCarthy was going to write an original film.

This buzz was elevated further when it was revealed that Ridley Scott was producing and directing the whole shebang. And then we saw the cast list and the world exploded.

A McCarthy film, directed by Scott, starring Michael Fassbender, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem and Brad Pitt? What could go wrong?


If you saw the trailer for The Counsellor, you'd understand the excitement - it looked slick, fast-paced, suspenseful, uber cool, sexy and mildly violent. In short, exactly what you wanted given the component parts.

Sadly, something, somewhere has gone ever-so-slightly wrong.

And you'd have to say it's the script.

There's not a bad performance here - Fassbender is fine as a fish out of water lawyer trying to raise some cash for his beloved (the lovely Cruz) by funding a drug deal.

Pitt (the cool middleman) and Bardem (the experienced drug man who's a few wraps short of a full packet) deliver the goods, and then there's Diaz.

For a woman who's made her name at the fluffier end of the spectrum to turn in a performance this sleazy, nasty and vicious is just superb. She pretty much steals the show.

And it looks as cool as the trailer had you believe. Lush, warm tones abound as the beautiful and swim-suited go about their business. Even the prisons and car shops look like places you could tolerate being in.

And when needed, the seedier side of town is made to look so grimy you believe you could catch something just sitting in the cinema.

So why does it feel so cold and detached?

OK, Ridley dropped the ball with Prometheus, and the less said about Robin Hood the better, but he can make a film, the lad. He's got pedigree.

And we can see that here.

It's cool, it looks great, the violence is almost visceral. The pacing is on the slow side, sure, but that works for the most part.

And there are times when you do get caught up in the tension.

The problem is in the characters. And the dialogue.

It matters not a jot that we don't know anything about Pitt and Bardem's characters - we're given enough information in how they play out on screen. That's fine.

But how does a lawyer afford a Bentley when he's doing pro bono work? Is Bardem's loon paying him THAT much? And if he's so strapped for cash that a drug deal is his only way out, what's he doing in Amsterdam shopping for diamonds?

And what does Cruz's character do? Why does she seemingly know so little about the man she's planning on marrying? And when did she become such good friends with Diaz's cheetah-loving uber-bitch that she was happy to spend the afternoon lying next to her wrapped in just a towel?

And how the hell did the cheetahs get out of the car?

Sure, I know some people will say such things don't matter - but the very fact I found myself asking these questions tells you that they do.

But all that pales next to the dialogue.

Now we know McCarthy's a good writer - you don't get a gazillion awards by being a second-rate Barbara Cartland, eh?

But there's a huge difference between what works in a book and what works on the screen, and going by this it's not something he's grasped.

We get deep and meaningful monologues from Pitt's faux cowboy, we get trite sentiment (dressed up as insight) from a woman who pleasures herself on a car windscreen, we get life lessons from a man who goes through life answering every question with "I just don't know".

All this may work on the page, where you have all the time and space you want to paint the characters - but in a visual medium, where the audience is being left to fill in the blanks, none of it rings true.

And that's almost a tragedy.

Because somewhere in here was a great crime thriller just waiting to leap out and tear your head off.

Instead, we're left asking questions. Like how does one get a car windscreen clean after that, and why did I just spend two hours of my life with these people?

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