Not really a fan of Ridley Scott's recent non-sci-fi works, I nevertheless give the odd interesting-looking one a go. Matchstick Men, American Gangster all had fun elements to them. Now, with The Counselor, you've got a star-studded cast and talented novelist Cormac McCarthy, responsible for No Country For Old Men, writing the script.
Yet, from the very first scene, it's pretty clear that this is one of those Ridley Scott projects that tries very hard, maybe a little too hard to be arty and "modern" in its approach, like A Good Year. While not as insufferable as the latter, The Counselor still has its overly pretentious scenes, most of which could be cut without it the film losing anything. This being McCarthy's first time writing a feature film of that type, it was always going to be a bit wordier than it should be but all those awkward conversations which characters have constantly in this movie just drag its pace down to a stand-still, to the point where, for the longest time, you're just sitting there, waiting for the film to really start! The film aspires to say something about men, women, sex, relationships, love, hence all the general banter the characters share throughout, but really the plot is very simple and demands for a more brutal, straight-forward execution. The rest just ends up getting in the way. Luckily, the cast is strong enough to pull some of these lectures off: Brad Pitt does a really good job overall, as does Javier Bardem. But then there's the likes of Cameron Diaz, who really tries to be intimidating and edgy but fails to convince, and Michael Fassbender, who delivers his lines well, but isn't really given a worthy, three-dimensional character to work with. Think Ewan McGregor in The Men Who Stare At Goats minus the annoying voice-over. It's very hard to feel for any of these people, even Penelope Cruz's more down-to-Earth character, since all of them have these pseudo-philosophical ponderings (or sex talk) to share with everyone else, in every conversation they have. The Counselor goes for Pulp Fiction-style chit-chat and cool but it never feels natural or genuine.
All that said, the film is just about saved by a handful of really effective moments and well put-together scenes. When The Counselor does get brutal, it works. A scene involving Brad Pitt near the end is very intense and memorable, Javier Bardem's story about the time Cameron Diaz screwed his car is pretty funny and the whole subplot following a septic truck carrying drugs from Mexico (which isn't so much a subplot as it is the plot) develops compellingly. It's just a shame that all these colourful characters we're forced to get interested in do nothing but talk about random shit in various rooms. I guess the point was to have Fassbender be, not only the main protagonist with his own agenda, but also an actual counselor, in the psychotherapist sense of the word, going around listening to these criminals' thoughts. A cute idea, but not one which opens the film up for too many non-character-based moments. For one thing, the characters aren't quite as fascinating as the film thinks they are and what they're doing isn't all that unique or mind-blowing. Actions speak louder than words, especially in this movie. Poor old Michael Fassbender is left over-emoting in scenes which just don't have the impact they were looking for at all and Diaz delivers each line like it was made of gold and blessed by Buddha when, again, most of them aren't very convincing coming from these characters.
Overall, I don't really recommend The Counselor, there are far better, more fun films out there with each of these actors: Inglourious Basterds (Fassbender/Pitt), Vanilla Sky (Cruz, Diaz), No Country For Old Men (Bardem), just a few isolated examples. Despite a few very good moments, the film lacks the pace and heart it needed to have an emotional impact and be entertaining throughout. As it stands, it's far too wordy for its own good and ends up being completely uneven, clumsy even at times.