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The Counsellor - Review

The Counsellor

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 2.5 out of 5

RIDLEY Scott has assembled a dream cast and created a nightmare. But while The Counsellor may ultimately be one of the least satisfying films of his remarkable career it’s also one of his most fascinating.

A lot of critics in the US were quick to dismiss the film as cold, inaccessible and terrible. But while at least two of those descriptions are true, The Counsellor does linger.

Its tale is essentially very simple. A hotshot lawyer, The Counsellor (Michael Fassbender) of the title, makes a deal in a bid to solve his financial woes that quickly puts his life, and those of his friends and loved ones, in peril.

As written by Cormac McCarthy (the author of No Country For Old Men here making his screenwriting debut), it’s a twisting, morally complex, murky potboiler that requires the utmost concentration. It’s also incredibly unforgiving and a funeral march, if you will, that operates from a very sceptical world view.

In many ways, McCarthy seems to be revisiting many of the themes from No Country, whose own leading protagonist found himself in a situation way over his head and faced with a prolific enemy.

With The Counsellor, however, that enemy is never clear. Cartels are involved but so too are self-serving outside parties. None are particularly visible. Ultimately, though, it is greed that is the ultimate destroyer.

It’s an intriguing world and a bleak one, prone to extreme bursts of violence. And no one is safe. So, if the film leaves you feeling cold, then perhaps it is very deliberate. A speech at the end, delivered by one of the film’s few survivors, suggests this is about man’s capacity to inflict harm and suffering upon his fellow man – a feeling that is magnified when that takes place in the world of the cartels, where mutilation and death are commonplace.

Yet, here we have people at the top of the food chain unwittingly becoming the prey, men of means, tempted by greed and women, stumbling towards their own, often horrible ruin.

Scott leaves no room for sentiment. But therein lies The Counsellor‘s biggest problem. Is there anyone truly worth caring about? Or are we merely privy to watching the slaughter unfold? Spectators like the ones in Scott’s own Gladiator?

The Counsellor is therefore a grim experience. Yet it’s also marked by some intriguing dialogue and some compelling performances, not least from Fassbender in the title role, but also from Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt and Cameron Diaz in showy support. True, we may not care much for what happens to any of them, but attempting to figure them out isn’t without its own intrigue.

Scott, too, has a certain amount of fun referencing other material, whether it’s McCarthy’s No Country or his own Black Rain (motorcycles and decapitations) or past genre classics such as Body Heat. And he aims to shock with one notorious scene involving Diaz’s character getting herself off on a car.

But as much as The Counsellor ought to impress, it also manages to frustrate. Hence, the case against it is easier to make than the case for it. It ultimately feels much less than the sum of its parts and asks too much from audiences without being prepared to give back in return.

Certificate: 18
Running time: 117mins
UK Release Date: November 15, 2013