So far as I can tell, The Counselor
has one primary lesson to teach viewers: Drug trafficking is bad. Real bad. Unless, of course, you’re an exotic dancer-turned-heartless villain with cheetah print tattoos down your back and your fingernails painted silver. Then you’re in the clear. The Counselor
, directed by Ridley Scott and written by Cormac McCarthy (it’s the author’s first original screenplay), is an unmitigated mess. It’s a cautionary tale about drug trafficking and reckless romance, set on the U.S.-Mexico border, but it’s so full of faux-poetic mumbo-jumbo and so choppily assembled that the result is just frustrating and dumb. The titular character, played by Michael Fassbender, is an unnamed lawyer who has gotten himself into a mess involving a martini-guzzling client (Javier Bardem, his hair looking like he stuck his finger in an electric socket) and a cowboy hat-wearing middleman (Brad Pitt). As it becomes obvious things will unravel for Fassbender, Pitt turns to him: “Counselor, I don’t know what you should do, but it’s out of your hands,” he says. The film, likewise, spirals out of Scott’s hands, lurching between disconnected vignettes and gruesome acts of violence. We get some glimpses into the ludicrously moneyed world these characters inhabit, a place where cheetahs wearing rhinestone collars sit both poolside and piano-side. It’s a world of Bentleys, diamonds and snakeskin boots, riches that Scott ogles in artless close-ups. It’s also an oversexed world, which is where that woman with the cheetah-print tattoos enters. She’s played by Cameron Diaz, in a stiff, affected performance so bad it’s painful to watch. As with McCarthy’s novels adapted for the screen—The Road
and No Country for Old Men
is peopled with bizarre characters harboring dark motives. This effort, though, could have used some counseling of its own.