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Film Review: The Counselor

Dir. Ridley Scott
20th Century Fox
3/5 Stars

By all accounts, “The Counselor” should work. Helmed by famed director Ridley Scott with a fantastic cast including Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Michael Fassbender and Brad Pitt, the film should have been great. The screenplay, penned by celebrated writer Cormac McCarthy, lends the movie even more credibility. Sadly, this is a case where the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts.

This is particularly due to the clunky screenwriting. McCarthy admirably dives into his first screenplay here, bringing many of his stylistic choices to the screen. Unfortunately, these choices don’t always transfer well. Awkward cuts between scenes are highlighted by the useless nature of many of the scenes themselves. Nearly every scene, particularly in the weaker first half, felt like it was either cut short or ran too long by 30 seconds, damaging the overall flow of the film. Character development was often forced, with long, one-sided conversations dominating many of the slower scenes.

It also doesn’t help that half of the characters seem to talk in riddles. In fact, there were only a handful of scenes where the intent of a character’s dialogue wasn’t implicit. The poetic language of McCarthy’s books transfers into the film, where it leaves viewers guessing at the veiled meaning behind characters’ exchanges. I was alternately floored and confused by the conversations in this film, many of which were stuffed to the brim with snappy one-liners. Pitt’s character slyly warns The Counselor, “You don’t know someone till you know what they want,” while Diaz responds to a quip about her “cold” statements by saying, “I think truth has no temperature.” While entertaining, the characters employ these one-liners to dance around anything of actual substance.

Despite it all, though, this screenplay sounds beautiful, and the cast used McCarthy’s immense command of language to their advantage. While Pitt, Diaz and Cruz do their best playing one-dimensional characters, Fassbender and Bardem truly shine as characters with depth and soul. Fassbender’s role as The Counselor is particularly magnificent. He portrays The Counselor’s descent into paranoia and madness with an ease that solidifies his place as a top-tier actor. It is also a shame that, with such a beautifully dark second half, the film still flounders in establishing the plot and characters in its plodding first half. If only the conversations and scenes that make up the film made a little more sense, this movie would likely have lived up to the immense hype.

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