Critical Mass: Is Michael Fassbender out of order in 'The Counselor'?

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Image Credit: Kerry Brown

For someone who oozes movie-star charisma, Michael Fassbender doesn’t seem to care a whit whether we like his characters or not. There was Shame, of course, in which he played a depressing sex-addict. In 12 Years a Slave, he is a sadistic Southern plantation tyrant who abuses his slaves in every possible way. And in The Counselor, which opens today, he plays a greedy lawyer who gets in way over his head with the Mexican drug cartel.

The movie is full of big names — Brad Pitt, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem, and Penelope Cruz — but they all submit their stardom to author Cormac McCarthy, who penned the script, his first screenplay. McCarthy is best known for his heart-of-darkness novels, like No Country for Old Men, All the Pretty Horses, and The Road, so The Counselor is certainly the most colorful of his tales — at least in the superficial sense. But underneath director Ridley Scott’s florescent-tinted veneer, The Counselor is McCarthy to the bone. Very bad things happen to people — some who deserve them, some who don’t.

The critics seem to be torn about the R-rated movie, with few pundits wavering on the fence. It’s either wackadoodle brilliant, or, as EW’s Chris Nashawaty wrote, “a jaw-dropping misfire.” Click below for some other opinions before you head to the theater this weekend.

Chris Nashawaty (Entertainment Weekly) ✖
“Considering the deep bench of A-list talent involved, Ridley Scott’s new Southwestern noir, The Counselor, is a jaw-dropping misfire. The dialogue is laughably pretentious, the plotting is virtually nonexistent, and the performances are so broad and cartoony that you keep wondering if it’s all some sort of prank.”

Manohla Dargis (New York Times) ★
“The story may be initially elusive, but there’s a clarity, solidity and stillness (the camera moves but doesn’t tremble) to his images that augment the narrative’s gravity and inexorable momentum. The beauty of the landscapes is about all that feels coherent in an often unrecognizable, unsettling world.”

Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times) ✖
“A key difficulty is that this plot is so predetermined there is little point in seeing it through to the end. Both the counselor and his girlfriend are so bleakly fated from frame one to have the most awful things happen to them they might as well have ‘helpless victims’ written on their sleeves.”

Mick LaSalle (San Francisco Chronicle) ✖
The Counselor is a movie about a guy who starts off not doing anything… and soon ends up unable to do anything. He is passive, then trapped. This is the protagonist. So here’s the question: If he is such an empty suit, why make him the focus of a story?”

Richard Roeper (Chicago Sun-Times) ★
“…director Ridley Scott and screenwriter Cormac McCarthy have fashioned a sexy, sometimes shockingly violent, literate and richly textured tale of the Shakespearean consequences of one man’s irrevocable act of avarice. It’s also a bloody great time.”

Ann Hornaday (Washington Post) ✖
“Isn’t McCarthy — author of No Country for Old Men and The Road — supposed to be the master of macho toughness and spare stylistic control? You wouldn’t know it from this self-consciously nasty piece of borderland noir, in which his familiar tropes by now look hackneyed and pathetic.”

Mary Pols (Time) ✖
“Fassbender’s portrayal [is] so fundamentally flat … that it is never clear what has compelled the character into this foolish business. Is he arrogant, stupid or insincere? Not that it much matters, since the movie’s main purpose seems to be throwing up signposts for what lies ahead.”

Claudia Puig (USA Today) ✖
“The overwritten script and the ridiculous plot combine to make The Counselor a frustrating experience. The well-edited trailer makes it look much more exciting, taut and captivating than it is. The actual movie is a casually violent and pretentious slog.”

Bilge Ebiri (New York Magazine)
“[Cameron Diaz], in one flashback that we’ll all be talking about for years, f–ks a car as Bardem watches. (I’m not making this up; it’s a scene you could insert into a South Park episode without any extra embellishments.)”

Tom Russo (Boston Globe) ★
“McCarthy’s script has to be the most satisfyingly conspicuous bit of screenwriting in recent memory. The Diaz scene aside, it’s generally more polished and less in-your-grill flashy than, say, Django Unchained, but no less idiosyncratically sharp.”

Todd McCarthy (Hollywood Reporter) ✖
“The trouble is, it’s no fun — not even dirty, sordid, delicious fun. This being a Ridley Scott film, the images are always fabulous to behold … but here they are employed mainly to show off the lifestyle — locations, vehicles, clothes, jewelry, makeup, haircuts; it’s a like two-hour commercial for a no-limit credit card.”

The Counselor
Overall Metacritic rating (1-100): 48
Rotten Tomatoes: 35 percent


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