Monday, 18 November 2013



You'd really expect a narcotics-based thriller with a top-of-the-A-list cast and a recognised genius director with at least two balls-to-the-wall masterpieces under his belt (Blade Runner and Alien) to be an absolute cracker of a film. Five bona fide movie stars, a knighted auteur, a Pulitzer-prize winning screenwriter, and the added bonus an 18 certificate from the BBFC for "strong bloody violence".... Obviously it can't possibly fail. Yet somehow, somehow, they manage it.

The Counsellor is a ludicrous mess of a film in which a variety of unsavoury criminal types philosophise, ramble or talk a lot of nonsense. In order to provide his fiancee Penelope Cruz with a lavish lifestyle, unnamed lawyer Michael Fassbender gets himself into the lucrative drugs smuggling racket from Mexico. But when it goes awry, neither colourful dealer Javier Bardem nor enigmatic middleman Brad Pitt, the two eccentrics who helped him get into the business in the first place, can offer any help....

Much of this is swathed in vast tracts of prattle that make no sense; what does "Truth has no temperature" even mean? Everyone's blathering on, even the Amsterdam jeweller who Fassbender visits to buy a swanky diamond engagement ring won't shut up. There are moments of grand silliness, mainly centred on Cameron Diaz as Bardem's girlfriend: not least her obsession with cheetahs and a memorable flashback in which she shags the windscreen of Bardem's car. There are also bursts of the promised bloody violence, particularly a nicely suspenseful sequence that culminates in a graphic garrotting.

But what The Counsellor lacks is any reason to give a toss about any of these characters. Certainly by the time our presumed hero is reduced to a whining, sobbing mess who has lost absolutely everything, it's impossible to rustle up any sympathy for him at all. Meanwhile the uber-criminal triumphs. And it's not like Scarface where Tony Montana may be a loathsome sociopath whose very existence makes the world a more horrible place, but he has magnetism and charisma and balls, and we want to see him rise so high so that his eventual fall is more satisfying. This is a film about a greedy, ill-advised idiot who gets involved in a criminal business he doesn't understand (despite reams of advice, not to mention basic common sense) and we're supposed to feel sorry for him when it goes horribly wrong.

Yes, it looks fabulous, and it's fun to see these actors at work, but it's an overly talky film (it would have made a better and tighter thriller without all the incomprehensible and pointless speechifying) which, despite the occasional moments of violence and WTF lunacy, fails to work. It's a massive, massive comedown for Sir Ridley Scott after the overhyped but underrated joys of Prometheus, and I suspect it's not going to last for long on cinema screens, but it's certainly not boring and might end up as a minor cult curiosity. Given the talent involved, that's really not enough.


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