The Counselor (2013)

(Video on Demand, March 2014) I can see why The Counselor got such terrible reviews. It’s utterly nihilistic, written with self-conscious lack of Hollywood polish, inconsistently paced and stylised to a degree that can be uncomfortable. The violence isn’t glamorous, the good guys are victims and there’s no escape from the consequences of bad decisions. On the other hand, I’m finding it hard to dismiss it out of hand as a complete failure: novelist Cormac McCarthy can be out of his depth as a screenwriter and Ridley Scott can have one of his off days, but the result of their collaboration has individual moments of off-beat brilliance. Michael Fassbender is compelling as a good man who decides to tempt fate with a few illegal decisions – The Counselor is about what happens when he runs afoul of some people without restraints to their wrath, and the ultimate price he pays for transgressing order. An interesting number of actors surround him, from an amused Brad Pitt to an often-hilarious Javier Bardem who gets some of the most darkly comic lines of the film. Penelope Cruze and Cameron Diaz get opposite roles as the good and the bad girl, with starkly different fates. There is, to be clear, no flow to the movie as it hops from one monologue to the other, from one oblique scene to the next and from one seemingly disconnected set piece to another. The film is at times suspenseful, disgusting, enigmatic, hilarious, horrifying and tragic. It’s all shot impeccably (it’s a Ridley Scott film, after all) but it struggles to amount to much more than a series of showcase sequences. There’s little suspense –almost by design, since this is a film describing an irreversible downfall but there is a sense of clumsiness to the result, as if no one could be bothered to smooth out the edges in-between the smaller pieces. That doesn’t make The Counselor an overlooked classic, but it makes it a hard sell for anyone who’d prefer a more consistent experience.

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