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The Counselor plays out very much like watching a group counseling session featuring a bunch of people who like to hear themselves talk.
Review (with Spoilers)
With Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, and Javier Bardem sharing a movie, you expect quite the performances. Add in Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender, who did quite a job in 12 Years a Slave, and again you up the ante. Then with the names Rosie Perez and Natalie Dormer, from Game of Thrones and Elementary, also having their names pop up, the movie just sounds like it has so much potential, and the trailer really does lead you to believe it has. Then you see the movie and begin to understand why so many great names were attached.
To begin, the focus is on Fassbender’s character who is never given an official name, at least one I heard and is simply called “The Counselor” throughout the movie. Now, despite his job being some sort of lawyer, the way he is portrayed makes him seem like he was written to be a crooked cop. The work he does with Bardem’s character Reiner and Pitt’s character Westray pushes this idea further and leads you to wonder what type of lawyer is he and how why did he put himself in such a strange position.
Which leads to the story of which there is a lot of dialog which sounds like it belongs in a convoluted novel. Everyone has an opinion about something, be it women, love, greed or similar topics which drive people to doing illegal things. However, amongst all this, we have Diaz’s character Malkina who moves about the film in such a way where you can never pin who she really is and why is she around? Everyone else, meanwhile, plays characters who seem either dull as the floorboard in your home or as overdone as interpretative art in a New York City museum.
And with that said, I honestly think perhaps the weirdest thing to compliment this movie on is it is so quotable. Though the dialog between characters drags on a bit, there are some gems amongst their conversations, especially coming from Reiner when it comes to the topic of relationships and women. In fact, Reiner and Malkina are really the only two characters which save the film. Reiner is Bardem acting in a way which reminds you of his character in Skyfall, but without him being a villain and toning down the eccentricity a bit. As for Diaz, her performance as Malkina reminds me a bit of Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct. She is alluring, provocative, and very much knows how to control a scene and give life even to a film which seems very full of itself to the point of being dull.
Thus leading to the issues of the film. Like 90% of films made in the last decade, or ever, pretty much all the best parts are in the trailer and what you are left with is the boring stuff in between. Not to say there aren’t some gun fights, some car chasing, and even a beheading, but the build is so weak that you feel like the good parts may never come and you sometimes wonder if the film you paid for is the same one the trailer advertised. You see, due to the long conversations Fassbender’s character has with Bardem’s and Pitt’s, the movie begins to have a similarity to watching a news channel. Most of the time is dedicated to talking about what may happen, then something happens, and then there is a reminder that there were signs, signals, and warnings. Altogether, the film comes off as something which seemingly not many people took a look at and due to such a cast signing up, and the director Ridley Scott being attached, someone just let it get green lighted and pushed it along.
Overall: Wait till DVD
There is really no reason to see this in theaters. Truly the only reason worth seeing this is because it has a handful of good quotes and because Diaz and Bardem can be quite entertaining in their scenes. At the same time though neither are so good they can carry the film. Fassbender has shown he can play a decent lead, but with a slightly bloated cast, he becomes almost a liability, as does Cruz and Pitt’s character. To me, if they cut Cruz and Pitt, and reworked Fassbender’s character, they could have had something good here. Instead, though, they tried to mash in a love story, a drama and throw in some action scenes and see if it could work. Unfortunately, though, outside of a few scenes, the film looks like a waste of millions of dollars.