Ridley Scott has made the most un-Ridley Scott movie with The Counselor. Based on an original screenplay by No Country for Old Men author Cormac McCarthy, for fans of the author, the film is about as much of a visual representation of his prose as could exist.
But does that make for a good movie?
Michael Fassbender stars as the title character that honestly goes by no other name in the entire film. As seen in The Counselor trailer, he is about to undertake a potentially highly profitable drug deal with one of his clients, Reiner (Javier Bardem).
We actually meet Bardem in the film's opening moments as he and his wife Malkina (Cameron Diaz) are enjoying a luxury picnic in the desert as their dual pet leopards are toying with their prey off in the distance. And there you have Scott's theme for McCarthy's tale. But the mystery exists when it comes to who is the prey in The Counselor and who is being toyed with.
Fassbender is successful and engaged to marry Penelope Cruz's Laura. Why he would enter this dangerous world that has him financing a $20 million drug deal is never quite explained. But the cautions of it are certainly laid out by the character portrayed by Brad Pitt, named Westray. He’s a man who appears to have done this many times, and as he tells The Counselor, he has an out ready to go at any time in case it goes south.
It’s practically advertised that this deal is not going to go well.
There is a periphery story involving Rosie Perez’s inmate, also a client of The Counselor, and her asking a favor of her lawyer when it comes to her son. This seems like a distraction, but in fact lies at the heart of why the suspense brews. Perhaps the weight of this aspect of the story is lost because all the other elements are so rich with elongated dialogue. At certain points, whether it a discussion between Bardem and Fassbender, a tender moment between Fassbender and Cruz or even the flirtatious banter between Bardem and Diaz, it is if we are hearing a modern Shakespeare wield his wordplay.
Why it works is that it requires patience of its audience. And much like a cerebral suspense story should be -- it is a slow and steady boil. And the performances... the cast is right in their wheelhouse, particularly Fassbender and Cruz.
It is something new for Scott as a director to work so much with his dialogue dishing the action, instead of his more traditional means of “movie action.”
And in the end, one might be surprised that it is Scott who has joined the long legions of filmmakers who have now crafted a Texas tale. Where this one ranks among those, such as No Country for Old Men or Lone Star, is somewhere in the middle.
There’s a weight to the film that also recalls some classic crime movies. Our The Counselor review finds it a solid film, but wish it could have been a little fiercer.