Clown­ing around with The Coun­selor

Things will go wrong, but it doesn’t seem right, writes Con­nie Ogle of The Mi­ami Her­ald

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - PLAY CONTENTS -

THERE are many signs that The Coun­selor is a ridicu­lous movie – the pseudo-in­tel­lec­tual phi­los­o­phy spouted by var­i­ous char­ac­ters, in­clud­ing the leader of a Mex­i­can drug car­tel; Javier Bar­dem’s fright-wig hair; Cameron Diaz’s evil eye­liner . . . But it’s hard to top the chee­tahs. Diaz plays a preda­tory blond named Malk­ina who has two chee­tahs for pets.

She decks them out in fancy col­lars and loves to watch them chase down and shred jackrab­bits in the high desert of El Paso. Her ad­mir­ing if some­what clown­ish lover (Bar­dem) makes drinks and looks on in be­muse­ment. If the eye­liner didn’t clue you in to her mo­ti­va­tions, the chee­tahs will.

The Coun­selor comes with ex­pec­ta­tions: It’s di­rected by Ri­d­ley Scott, with an im­pres­sive cast, which also in­cludes Michael Fass­ben­der, Pene­lope Cruz and Brad Pitt.

Nov­el­ist Cor­mac McCarthy wrote the screen­play. If you’ve ever read his nov­els – The Road, No Coun­try for Old Men, Blood Merid­ian – or even seen the films adapted from some of them, then you know to ex­pect blood, vi­o­lence, greed, ni­hilism and hor­rific deaths for at least 70 per­cent of the char­ac­ters.

What you don’t ex­pect is camp. The Coun­selor is more Wild Things than No Coun­try for Old Men, with which it shares a bor­der-town set­ting. But at least Wild Things knew what it was.

The film fol­lows the de­ci­sion of an El Paso crim­i­nal de­fence at­tor­ney (Michael Fass­ben­der) to ven­ture into the high-stakes world of drug traf­fick­ing. In a bit of coy arti­ness, we never learn his name, just as we never learn the names of other play­ers in the great drug-traf­fick­ing ma­chine (the Buyer, the Jefe).

‘The Coun­selor’, as his part­ners call him, is in fi­nan­cial trou­ble, al­though he flies to Am­s­ter­dam to buy a di­a­mond for his lady friend Laura (Pene­lope Cruz).

So the Coun­selor sets out to par­tic­i­pate in a drug deal with his flashy pal Re­nier (Bar­dem), though the ex­act de­tails of his in­volve­ment are murky.

He picks the brain of another ac­quain­tance, Westray (Brad Pitt), a high roller in the biz who wears a cow­boy hat and thank­fully in­jects a bit of play­ful­ness into the movie.

He also warns the Coun­selor about the dan­gers pre­sented by work­ing with a Mex­i­can car­tel. One would as­sume a crim­i­nal lawyer liv­ing just out­side Juarez might al­ready un­der­stand the risk, even if he hasn’t seen a sin­gle episode of Break­ing Bad, but the Coun­selor is clue­less – and sur­prised when ev­ery­thing goes wrong.

Just about ev­ery­thing goes wrong in Scott’s film, too, al­though Fass­ben­der is solid and Bar­dem and Pitt are amus­ing.

The script does them no fa­vors and is even harder on the women. One doesn’t ex­pect en­light­en­ment or fe­male char­ac­ter de­vel­op­ment from McCarthy, but The Coun­selor of­fers noth­ing be­yond over-the-top whore/ madonna cliches.

Diaz gets the worst as­sign­ment as Malk­ina. She shocks Re­nier by hav­ing sex with his car while he sits stunned in the pas­sen­ger seat.

Re­nier’s de­scrip­tion of the event, shown in flash­back, is funny, but the sight of Diaz writhing on the wind­shield doesn’t help you share his horror. It just makes you feel sorry for Diaz and every­body else in this silly, af­fected, self-im­por­tant movie.

The Coun­selor opens to­day.

Michael Fass­ben­der (left), as the Coun­selor, and Javier Bar­dem as Reiner in The Coun­selor.

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