It’s no secret I’m a big fan of Michael Fassbender. I’ve been looking forward to The Counselor, directed by Ridley Scott, ever since early photos arrived from the set last summer. It sounded good: a lawyer decides to walk on the wild side, involving himself in a major drug deal with the intent of returning to his straitlaced life a few million dollars richer. But when things go wrong, he and his fiancee (Penelope Cruz) face death at the hands of a vengeful cartel. In addition to Fassebender, Pitt, Cruz, and Scott, the movie boasts several other fine actors, all doing their best to sell what quickly proves to be a silly, self-important, pseudo-intellectual mess of a movie.
From the very first scene, we’re subjected to the sort of dialogue that might look pretty on the page, but sounds completely unconvincing when spoken aloud. The camera loves Fassbender and Cruz, and no one can blame Ridley Scott for lingering on them: in fact, it’s worth pointing out, the entire film is beautifully shot. If you came across it playing in a bar with no closed-captioning and you couldn’t read lips, you might think the movie would be worth checking out. But the sad fact is, you could get a bar full of drunks to redub the movie themselves using ad libbed dialogue and not only would it probably be more entertaining, it might actually make sense.
Fassbender’s character is, of course, the Counselor; he has no other name. This excruciating conceit leads to all sorts of super-stilted dialogue in which various people, including old friends, acquaintances, a mafia boss, and a Mexican drug lord, repeatedly say things like, “You’re in over your head, Counselor.” Or: “The world has changed for you, Counselor.” To which Fassbender’s character replies in three ways: stupid good humor, vague worry, or a soft, “Jesus.” Because the Counselor is an enigma– a lawyer who is unforgivably naive, a friend of drug lords who doesn’t understand that selling drugs can get you killed, and a man with inexplicable connections to the Italian mafia yet no street smarts–it’s difficult to care about him, or even miss him when he’s off-screen. You’d never guess the actor who was so compelling in Scott’s previous film, Prometheus, is this same fellow with the blank smile and (apparent) learning disability. Then again, in Prometheus (a movie with its own share of problems) Fassbender was playing a character, even if that character was an android. Here, he’s playing a suit.
The movie’s worst sin, however, is its long, long speeches that go nowhere and illuminate nothing. I have the suspicion the screenwriter wanted to out-Tarantino Tarantino, to create some movie moments like the “they call it Le Royale with cheese” bit from Pulp Fiction. Instead, we get weird pretentious dialogue that makes little if no sense:
“Greed pushes us to the edge.”
“No. Greed is the edge.”
“That’s a little cold, don’t you think?”
“I believe the truth has no temperature.”
Finally, there’s the pièce de résistance, a truly ghastly and pointless scene in which a drug dealer tells the Counselor how his girlfriend once … well, to use the sort of stilted dialogue the movie loves, “had congress with a conveyance of glass and steel.” I glanced around the theater to see if any of the women were preparing tp walk out, but they were all reading stuff on their phones. And I’ll admit, around minute six of this tripe, I tried to log into Facebook so I could post my derision. Alas–not enough bars.
So what else can I say about The Counselor? Something positive? I’ve got it. It’s made me twice as eager to see 12 Years a Slave tomorrow … so Fass can redeem himself, and I can get this simpleminded nonsense out of my head.