image: 20th Century Fox
It isn’t hard to see why Cormac McCarthy’s first foray into feature film screenwriting garnered such a strong production team. Directed by Ridley Scott, the likes of Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem all contribute to what they must have irrevocably thought would be the next No Country for Old Men. However, not even a cameo by Bruno Ganz can uphold a script laden with poor pace, unsubstantiated dialogue and a severe lack of clarity.
At first glance, the plot may seem so dry as to be secure from these misgivings. In spite of tiresome warnings of the repercussions his actions may hold, a lawyer decides to get rich quickly by involving himself with a drug trafficking operation across the Mexican border. When the job is sabotaged, the Cartel seeks swift vengeance of everyone involved.
Like a weary heart monitor, the film’s heart beats in erratic places. While the episodic scenes of violence offer taut suspension, including gruesome methods of assassination and superbly elongated shoot-outs, the rest of the narrative provides little more. If you manage to sift through the confusion of muddled character motives, you could catch a glimpse of that elusive heartbeat in what is arguably the best scene. Towards the end of the film, at his most desperate level, Fassbender’s character has an intense conversation over the phone with the eloquent leader of the Cartel, in an attempt to right the wrongs of his actions; at leisure drinking coffee from a china teacup, behind the wooden blinds of a darkened study, he explains the nature of consequence and reality through humanity’s illusion of choice under moments of duress. Elsewhere though, these Kafkaesque monologues fold in under their own weight like weak origami figures.
Many critics have lamented the squandered potential in The Counsellor. But the truth is that all this potential is present on screen; its cracking surface held together by bold performances that miss the mark through no fault of their own, with direction that exhausts all avenues in its attempt to shape the bare threads that fray chaotically outward. The real loss of The Counsellor resides in its poorly executed screenplay that attempts to reconcile and excuse these fraught ends as existentialism, when all we really get is a cryptically crippling crypt with flickering moments that die out all too soon.