The Cormac McCarthy movie ‘The Counselor’ is beautifully hopeless

Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender are screwed in "The Counselor." Credit: Kerry Brown
Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender are screwed in “The Counselor.”
Credit: Kerry Brown

‘The Counselor’
Director: Ridley Scott
Stars: Michael Fassbender, Javier Bardem
Rating: R
4 (out of 5) Globes

The rush to capitalize on novelist Cormac McCarthy in the wake of “No Country for Old Men” neglects one thing: McCarthy is really, almost cartoonishly bleak. “Prisoners” was recently singled out for being, for a Hollywood product, dark. But that film had hope. There is zero hope in McCarthy’s world. The baddest of the bad guys win, and the heroes — well, they aren’t heroes, or even good, but when they lose they lose in a way that’s infinitely worse than they deserve.

“The Counselor,” which McCarthy wrote (and somehow sold as a spec script), is even less happy than usual. And yet it pairs him with a big budget and a slick director, Ridley Scott. It’s not a tight fit. With “No Country,” McCarthy found directors (the Coen Brothers) who shared his precision and pitiless bemusement. Scott is a showman and a sloppy one, so concerned with look and individual parts that he often neglects the big picture. “The Counselor” generically looks a beaut, but Scott has little sense of what to do with the author’s numerous talky scenes apart from finding terrific actors to play them.

But McCarthy is too strong a voice to not shine through anyway. Michael Fassbender is our chief fool, a high-end criminal lawyer referred to only as (yes) “The Counselor.” Needing money, in part to award his honey (Penelope Cruz) with a diamond engagement ring, he agrees to get involved with the drug trafficking trade he’s only dealt with from a legal sense.

One thing leads to another, and our anti-hero and his accomplices — a hedonistic drug lord with static electric hair (Javier Bardem) and a cucumber cool middleman (Brad Pitt) — find themselves targets of the very angry, very vengeful and utterly unforgiving forces they let loose.

Honestly, McCarthy’s plot — largely conveyed through lengthy tete-a-tetes — gets incredibly confusing (albeit the kind that will likely make sense upon a second viewing). The confusion is partly by design: We’re meant to feel as helpless as our protagonists, adrift in a quagmire over which they assumed, wrongly, they had control, and whose severity they don’t fully accept until it’s too late. It aims for the watchability of “The Big Sleep,” a film so tangled even its author, Raymond Chandler, couldn’t explain certain plot mysteries, but which was nonetheless compelling for having great scene after great scene.

“The Counselor” isn’t that consistent, though it’s genuinely and inspiredly lurid, building slowly into the darkest of comedies. Gruesomely OTT deaths pile up, most of them involving head trauma. Cameron Diaz — Bardem’s tattooed, bisexual boo, who may be more connected than she seems — has a scene where she “makes love” to a Ferrari windshield that’s due for end-of-year “best scene” lists. And Pitt once again reveals he’s far more magnetic when disreputable than when noble. When he realizes there’s hurtin’ on the way, Pitt’s keels over in a deep belly laugh. It’s the kind of movie where the only response to imminent, horrific death is to laugh. It won’t stop anything, but it helps.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

Interfaith leaders denounce anti-Muslim harassment in Brooklyn

Community leaders of all faiths gathered in Brooklyn on Tuesday to push back on what they described as hateful acts against the local Muslim community.

National

Parched Texas town turns to sewage water to…

By Marice RichterDALLAS (Reuters) - When the going got tough due one of with worst droughts in a century, the parched Texas city of Wichita…

International

NYPD: Robber makes elderly man drive to Queens…

A robber grabbed an elderly man's neck outside a Queens supermarket, stole his wallet and made him drive to ATMs for withdrawals last week, police said.

Local

Tattooed, bearded suspect sought in Williamsburg bike theft:…

The suspected thief faces grand larceny charges after investigators said he entered the building on North 5th Street in Williamsburg.

Television

'Face Off' contestant David 'DOC' O'Connell sounds off…

David "DOC" O'Connell tells us about getting cast on Season 7 of Syfy's "Face Off," premiering tonight at 9.

Arts

PHOTO: Wildlife photographer Marc Mol captures amazing aerial…

This aerial image was taken by photographer Marc Mol who spotted the animals during an air safari in Zambia.

Arts

Theater: “Love and Human Remains” is like a…

"Love and Human Remains" is the worst show we've ever not walked out of.

Movies

Review: 'A Most Wanted Man' works better when…

In one of his last roles, Philip Seymour Hoffman headlines the John Le Carre adaptation of "A Most Wanted Man," about the pursuit of a Chechen refugee.

MLB

MLB Power Rankings: A's, Angels, Dodgers, Brewers lead…

MLB Power Rankings: A's, Angels, Dodgers, Brewers lead pack

NFL

2014 NFL season betting odds: Which team will…

2014 NFL season betting odds: Which team will win Super Bowl?

NFL

5 players to watch at Giants training camp

Metro takes a look at five players who will be on everyone’s mind when Giants training camp gets underway.

NFL

'Vicktory dogs' travel road to rehabilitation seven years…

Of the dozens of dogs groomed by Bad Newz Kennels, 48 were rescued and 22 of the pit bull terriers have emerged at Best Friends Animal Society.

Home

5 New Ikea products that will change your…

We round-up the latest must-have products.

Food

Recipe: Wolfgang Puck's Buttermilk French Toast

We recently spent some time chatting with restauranteur/celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck at his Wolfgang Puck American Grille in the Borgata in Atlantic City. Puck wanted…

Style

Go retro with your sneakers

The best of wacky new sneakers.

Parenting

Buy gently worn back-to-school clothes with Kidizen

Kidizen allows parents to buy and sell gently worn back-to-school clothes.