The Counselor tells the story of a high-flown attorney (Fassbender), referred to only by the title “Counselor” throughout the film. He proposes to his sweet and trusting girlfriend, Laura (Cruz), and the two seem headed toward marital bliss until the Counselor gets tangled in a lucrative but shady drug deal with his client Reiner (Bardem) and Reiner’s girlfriend, Malkina (Diaz). The Counselor receives both advice and warning from middleman Westray (Pitt), but even Westray’s ominous allusions to downfall don’t stop the Counselor from continuing along his road to perdition.
The sad part is, The Counselor could have been a great film. I’ve been fascinated with Michael Fassbender ever since 2011’s A Dangerous Method and Jane Eyre, and he doesn’t disappoint. The cool and composed Counselor is right up his dramatic alley, but when crisis calls for it, Fassbender also reveals a surprisingly earnest emotional side. Bardem is hilarious as the flamboyant Reiner, and Pitt serves as an effective foil as the dead-serious Westray. The characters are well played, but the film’s identity crisis prevents viewers from fully sympathizing with them. The Counselor wants to be about greed, corruption, deception, brutality; it also tries to straddle the lines between heist film, Western, thriller, and dark comedy. However, it pushes these themes and identities via heavy-handed dialogue and symbolism, which makes us lose interest in the characters and causes most of the film’s intended effects to fall flat.
Verdict? Meh. While The Counselor doesn’t live up to No Country for Old Men (which was based on a best-selling McCarthy novel), this was McCarthy’s first screenplay since 1976, and I’d be interested in seeing more of his work on screen. More Michael Fassbender wouldn’t hurt, either.