You don’t get more Hollywood than the all-star roster behind the Cormac McCarthy-penned, Ridley Scott-helmed crime drama The Counselor. For that matter, you don’t get much more Hollywood than Ridley Scott. The Counselor has Tinsel Town pedigree, but it does not play out like a Hollywood movie. It is far too methodically paced, pointedly philosophical, shamelessly strange, and unapologetically brutal.
Though this is McCarthy’s first produced screenplay, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist is no stranger to the big screen. His novels All The Pretty Horses, The Road, and No Country For Old Men have all been adapted into acclaimed films, the last nabbing the 2007 Academy Award for Best Picture. In The Counselor, McCarthy plays straight into his wheelhouse, concocting the sort of neo-Western, thriller-crime-drama morality tale that has become his calling card.
Synopsizing this film is a bit of a tricky proposition, as we are a good hour into the proceedings before the pieces of the plot begin to come together. In the meantime, we are introduced to our main players: the eponymous Counselor (Michael Fassbender), an El Paso lawyer on the wrong side of the law involved in a sizable drug deal; his unassuming fiancée Laura (Penélope Cruz); his partners in his illegal dealings, epicurean Reiner (Javier Bardem); the monastic Westray (Brad Pitt); and Reiner’s mercurial mistress Malkina (scene-stealer Cameron Diaz). When Counselor agrees to bail his client’s son out of jail for a speeding charge, he unwittingly sets into motion a chain of events that threaten to undo him (as well as most of our main characters).
McCarthy does not care about three-act structure. Nor does he care about Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey. Never mind empathy or emotional catharsis. His story is told in philosophical conversations punctuated by acts of unspeakable violence (and yes, this includes the Cameron Diaz-having-sex-with-a-car scene you’ve been hearing so much about). But if those are terms you can agree to, The Counselor proves well worthy of your time, not to mention a refreshingly bold use of some of Hollywood’s biggest players.