Cormac McCarthy has a particular worldview and it’s a tad bleak. OK. Fine. It’s super-mega bleak. It’s “road trip to visit Holocaust sites with Kafka and Nietzsche” bleak.
The novelist and playwright doesn’t have the highest opinion of humanity, but he is incredibly gifted at making all the bad news deeply compelling.
His work has won the Pulitzer Prize (“The Road”) and been adapted into an Academy Award-winning movie (“No Country for Old Men”), so it was exciting to see his first attempt at screenplay writing get a stylish director like Ridley Scott and an incredible cast that features Michael Fassbender, Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt, and Cameron Diaz.
The resulting film, “The Counselor,” tries to pass itself off as a vibrant crime thriller, but unfortunately winds up being a disappointing psycho-sexual mishmash that plays out like McCarthy’s Greatest Hits of gloom and doom.
Film is usually a director’s medium, and Scott has delivered a visually interesting and impeccably made movie; but when dealing with a literary 500-pound gorilla like McCarthy, he tends to overshadow the proceedings.
McCarthy doesn’t seem particularly interested in the plot, which is of the standard drug-deal-gone-bad variety set in the U.S./Mexico border downs of El Paso and Juarez. Loose ends dangle all over the place and the story repeatedly wanders into grim little cul-de-sacs, such as a pointless scene where low-level cartel members played by Dean Norris and John Leguizamo discuss the hassle of receiving a human body along with a drug shipment.
Character development is pretty much nonexistent as well, which makes you really feel for the talented cast as they struggle to make something out of their underwritten roles. Even Bardem’s hair, which has given some of the finest follicle-based performances of the past decade, seems at a loss here.
Fassbender plays the titular Counselor who is basically a blank vessel full of poor choices who has to stand around while everyone else existentially speechifies at him in indistinguishable McCarthyisms.
It’s not all painful as McCarthy can still turn a phrase (“They don’t believe in coincidences. They’ve heard of them, they’ve just never seen one.”), but none of these characters have attended the Elmore Leonard School of How People Really Talk.
So if plot and character don’t matter, what is McCarthy trying to tell us with this movie? There’s the standard warm and cozy musings on the godless, fickle depravity of existence, but the big takeaway is that the consequences of bad decisions are unstoppable forces of nature, which he’s already relayed to us in a much more elegant fashion in “No Country for Old Men.”
He also wants us to know he’s really good at coming up with horrifyingly creative ways to kill people, which makes me think he’s angling to land the next “Saw” movie.
Lastly, he wants to make clear that he’s got a lot of issues with women. Typically, women in McCarthy’s works are either weak and bumbling or cruel and calculating and the women in “The Counselor” are no different.
All of the men in the movie are either entrapped by women or tossing about bitter generalizations like “You can do anything you want to a woman as long as you don’t bore her.”
This might be the best performance of Diaz’s career, but what she’ll be remembered most for in this movie is the sex act she performs with the windshield of a Ferrari. It is in the retelling of this strange encounter where lady parts are compared to bottom-feeding fish.
You don’t have to be Dr. Freud to deduce that McCarthy would only last about five minutes at “The Vagina Monologues” before he would run out screaming with his hands over his ears. I’ve seen more misogynistic movies than “The Counselor,” I just can’t remember when.
This is a disappointing movie not only because of the squandering of talent behind and in front of the camera, but mostly because a great writer like McCarthy has so little that is new or imperative to say. Maybe from here on out he should just stick to novels and let the Coen Brothers handle the screenplays.
“The Counselor” is rated R for graphic violence, some grisly images, strong sexual content, and language.