I don’t inherently have a problem with films that go a little bonkers. And I can muster up an appreciation whether the offerings in question are good or bad. Bong Joon-ho devising brilliant storytelling around dystopian science fiction taking place almost entirely within a locomotive endlessly circling the planet? Yes, please! Neil Labute disastrously fumbling with a limp gothic horror remake in which Nicolas Cage overacts his way through fisticuffs while wearing a ratty bear costume and torture by bee helmet? I’ll take seconds and lick that plate clean!
Maybe the real problem in when a film the tilts toward lunacy lands somewhere in the middle of the two extremes, marked by neither inspiration nor ineptness. What happens when material that is relentlessly nutso is handled with dull competence?
The Counselor happens, that’s what.
Directed by Ridley Scott, The Counselor assembles a first-rate cast and sets them wandering aimlessly across a plot of creeping criminality and addled sexual intrigue. I’d like to provide a little more detail on the mechanics of that story, but I could barely discern what was going on besides the different characters — led by the title attorney, played by Michael Fassbender — slipping in and out of each other’s orbits to deliver coyly menacing dialogue. The gears of the story don’t connect. They just spin and spin.
The most notable name in the opening credits is revered novelist Cormac McCarthy. The Counselor is his first produced original screenplay, following adaptations of his books that include one flat-out classic and many more big screen works that implicitly, inadvertently argue that his distinct brand of terse, tense prose doesn’t travel well when moved from the page. In this instance, there’s no condemning the translation. McCarthy presumably believed these lines could be spoken aloud and sound like human communication. But actors imbued with boundless talent straight from the heavens couldn’t pull off a moment such as the one in which Javier Bardem reacts to a grim comment from Cameron Diaz by asking her, “You don’t think that’s a bit cold?,” and she responds, “I think truth has no temperature.” And then there’s Fassbender’s cooing to Penélope Cruz, “Life is being in bed with you. Everything else is just waiting.” It one of the grossest approximations of seductive romance I’ve encountered in a film in quite some time.
The above litany doesn’t even start digging into the nutty plot points: the bikini pool party with a leopard sedately hanging out, the intricate highway beheading that mystically stirs an incarcerated woman (Rosie Perez) awake, the scene of Diaz mounting — in both the dictionary and pornographic definitions of the word — a sports car windshield as Bardem gazes up in confusion. Scott films all this with an odd placidness bordering on dull-eyed indifference. It’s an exercise in riled perversion presented as a chain of plainly framed close-ups, like a TV movie from decades ago. Decadence has rarely seemed so dull.
I made it approximately halfway through The Counselor.
Previously in The Unwatchables…
— Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, directed by Michael Bay
— Alice in Wonderland, directed by Tim Burton
— Due Date, directed by Todd Phillips
— Sucker Punch, directed by Zack Snyder
— Cowboys & Aliens, directed by Jon Favreau
— After Earth, directed by M. Night Shyamalan
— The Beaver, directed by Jodie Foster
— Now You See Me 2, directed by Jon M. Chu
— The Mummy, directed by Alex Kurtzman