THE COUNSELOR (director: Ridley Scott; screenwriter: Cormac McCarthy; cinematographer: Dariusz Wolski; editor:  Pietro Scala; music:  Daniel Pemberton; cast: Michael Fassbender (Counselor), Penelope Cruz (Laura), Cameron Diaz (Malkina), Javier Bardem (Reiner), Brad Pitt (Westray), Bruno Ganz (Diamond Dealer), Rosie Perez (Ruth), Sam Spruell (Wireman), Toby Kebbell (Tony), Edgar Ramirez (Priest ), Ruben Blades (Jefe), Natalie Dormer (Blonde), Goran Visnjic (Banker); Runtime: 117; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Paula Mae Schwartz/Nick Wechsler/Ridley Scott; Fox Films; 2013)

"Fails to generate a feeling that we are seeing something that means much."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Noted filmmaker Ridley Scott ("Robin Hood"/"Body of Lies"/"Prometheus") directs this pessimistic nightmarish suspense thriller about a botched drug deal with a vicious Mexican drug cartel and its fatal consequences. It's aimed to show that crime is not for all--certainly not for the titular lawyer, referred to throughout the movie only as the Counselor (Michael Fassbender). The Counselor gets greedy and partners with a hedonistic weirdo goofy hair-styled fixer drug kingpin, Reiner (Javier Bardem), in a get rich quick scheme. The Counselor has to oversee the cocaine shipment from Colombia to Chicago in a septic-tank truck.

The slick Counselor, a respected figure in his circle but is naive in the criminal world. He's in over his head and gets trapped in an ill-fated drug deal that he can't resolve without dire consequences for him and his innocent fiancee Laura (Penelope Cruz). Meanwhile the bemused Reiner insanely laughs it up with his smart but scheming bisexual girlfriend Malkina (Cameron Diaz), who once fucked Reiner's Ferrari and immensely enjoys his two pet cheetahs who run without leashes in the Texas-Mexican desert to hunt prey (attention: a metaphor alert). The mysterious Westray (Brad Pitt) is the philosophical spouting pragmatic middle-man in the deal, who engages in several long conversations with the Counselor to let him know the smuggling operation is run by the most ruthless people possible in a world that has turned increasing uglier over time. To prove what the middle-man says is true, there will be unleashed an instrument of doom, a portable device that clamps around a victim’s neck with a strand of unbreakable alloy tightening until the head is severed from the body. The mechanical means of assassination is deployed in one of the key third act scenes, and might be considered one of the film's morbid highlights.

What passes for wit are lines like the “Truth has no temperature” and "You think you can live in this world and not be a part of it?", which may or may not be witty but seemed misplaced in such a murky film where nothing intelligent resonates in such an unappealing chatty and violent story.

It's clunky, too close to being misogynistic, too wordy (the actors are puppets seemingly mouthing the author's ideas) and it's too much absorbed with its amoral cutthroat characters to distance itself from their narrow world of violence and excessive pleasure. The 80-year-old Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Cormac McCarthy (No Country for Old Men), writing his first original screenplay, creates a dark desert noir tale about betrayal, the amoral twists in capitalism and the gruesome consequences of a drug war, but his dark visions don't translate well onscreen and all the symbolic messages awkwardly stick out.

REVIEWED ON 10/25/2013       GRADE: C+

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"