Thursday, April 26, 2018

Review: 'Counselor' part guilty pleasure and mostly disappointing mess

Half-baked and only mildly entertaining, The Counselor is a guilty pleasure at its best and a muddled mess at its worst. It is also more of a lifeless drama than it is the enthralling drug cartel crime thriller it has been marketed as.

The counselor (Michael Fassbender), a nameless lawyer who gets involved in drug trafficking, puts himself and his fiancee, Laura (Penelope Cruz), in danger when his first drug deal goes horribly wrong. Desperate for options, he looks to Reiner (Javier Bardem) and Westray (Brad Pitt), two experienced drug traffickers on his end of the deal, for help. Meanwhile, Reiner is beginning to grow suspicious of his mysterious lover, Malkina (Cameron Diaz).

The film is way longer than it needs to be due to countless excesses and ridiculously slow pacing, and the first half is bogged down by boring, shallow romance. Most of the conversations drag on for what feels like an eternity and move the plot absolutely nowhere. The action sequences, on the other hand, lack dramatic buildup and are short-lived, so the viewer's adrenaline is dead before it ever starts pumping.

This film marks author Cormac McCarthy's first attempt at writing directly for the screen. He should probably stick to books. His script has all the characteristics of writing that only works on paper, setting the film up for failure. The story is simultaneously underdeveloped and all over the place, and the dialogue tries too hard to be poetic, instead coming across as pretentious and contrived. It is hard to believe McCarthy also wrote the ingeniously chilling novel that the film No Country for Old Men is based on. One of the script's few strengths is its comedic moments, such as a funny story Reiner tells about Malkina and his car.

The characters are exceptionally bland despite a fantastic cast that delivers, so the film is only moderately rescued by Fassbender, Bardem and Pitt. Diaz sticks out as the weakest performance, and Cruz plays the dullest character with the least time on screen, making it hard to criticize her. This film is the definition of wasted talent.

Director Ridley Scott did a much better job with last year's Prometheus. He has mastered the style of sci-fi with his distinctive lighting and smooth cinematography, but he fails to bring anything remotely as interesting to The Counselor. From the way it was written to the way it was directed, the film lacks the panache viewers might expect from a story about a drug deal gone wrong.

Though a couple of brief action sequences keep the viewer awake, The Counselor has little else to offer. Just as its excellent cast is wasted, so too are a few potentially memorable scenes in the context of a forgettable film.

Mark Mukherjee is a senior at King High.

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