“The Counselor:” nice poetry, bad movie

by Caleb Whitmer on October 31, 2013

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When English major types watch “The Counselor,” they’ll see a term paper ready to be written.
The rest of the world will just see a bad movie.
Despite the help of a cast and crew more talented than Space Jam’s Monstars, McCarthy’s script proves unwieldy for the silver screen. The nuggets of poetry sprinkled throughout the nearly two-hour long movie feel forced and, more often than not, a little pretentious. Worst of all, its just plain boring.
The story is as follows: The Counselor, played by Michael Fassbender, looks to strike it rich with the Mexican drug cartels. Its supposed to be a one-off deal, and when he’s done, he’ll ride off with his fiance into the Texas sunset.
But things go wrong. The cartels believe that the counselor is double-timing them. The counselor’s buddy Westray, played by Brad Pitt, warns him of this, and although the counselor swears a bunch (he said “Jesus”! He must be emotionally distressed!), he hangs around for another 45 minutes of movie time to have long, philosophical conversations in bars, living rooms, and nightclubs.
Unfortunately, the movie’s marketing department neutralizes the heaviness of these scenes with ridiculously obvious product placement. Nothing renders silly the news of the counselors probably impending death quite like a strategically placed Mac computer. Fassbender and Pitt drink Heineken, by the way.
But after an hour of spinning its wheels, the movie starts rolling. Or really it jerks forward a couple feet, then stops, then jerks forward again, then drives for a while, then crashes entirely. Let me explain.
The transitions between scenes is, at best, jarring. At worst, lazy. Especially near the end, characters drop in and out of the story as McCarthy wishes, often times with little to no explanation as to who they are or why they are talking to the counselor. We see this most prominently in the character of Jefe, who the counselor seeks guidance from after his fiance is kidnapped by the cartels.
“It is not for me to say what you should have done. Or not done,” this character tells him. “I only know that the world in which you seek to undo your mistakes is not the world in which they were made.” That’s nice, right? But when the scene begins, the counselor is already on the phone with Jefe. We know nothing about him other than he is Hispanic and likes playing pool. His character serves no other function than to say something profound. In fact, nearly all the movie’s wooden characters serve as little more than mouthpieces for McCarthy’s philosophical musings. This makes for fine reading, but not such a good movie.
You never get the sense that these conversations fit together into much of a narrative. There is zero emotional payoff in this movie. You watch these characters say profound things, but you always know that they –– the actors, not the characters –– know they are saying something profound, too.
So maybe the movie doesn’t fail in spite of the movie’s big names but because of them. I never once, while watching the movie, forgot that I was watching something written by Cormac McCarthy, or that Westray was played by Brad Pitt, or that Ridley Scott was directing.
“The Counselor” wears its pretentions to profundity on its very expensive-looking sleeves. In doing so, it never amounts to anything more than a vanity project.

cwhitmer@hillsdale.edu (438)

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