Ridley Scott is not a great director. In the past the man has made great films such as Blade Runner and Alien, which represent some of the strongest efforts Sci-Fi has to offer. But having made eleven films in twelve years, the majority of which toe the line between mediocre and awful, Scott’s lack of consistency showcases how fundamentally he is not a great director. But he can be. When given the right script, Scott can allow well formed story to transcend itself and become something much more than the sum of its parts. When the news that Scott’s new film, The Counsellor, was being scripted by literary legend Cormac McCarthy, expectations began to rise. Add to this the casting of Michael Fassbender, Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz along with the camera of Dariuz Wolski (Dark City, The Crow) and the pieces for what seems to be the film of the year all begin to fall into place. But unfortunately, try as they might, those pieces simply don’t fit.
The cast is uniformly solid with the weakest link being Brad Pitt’s ill fitting character. Strange as it is to say, despite the presence of multiple Oscar winners, the real shining star in the film is Cameron Diaz. Her Barbadian trophy mistress owes a great deal to the likes of Lady Macbeth and Diaz nails the Machiavellian aspects of the character. Diaz does a fine job, particularly when considering how over the top and ridiculous this could have been played. That’s not to say it’s a standard performance. In one of the few scenes of the films that works, Diaz literally has sex with a car. Dwell on that for a moment and remember that one of the great American authors wrote that scene. What is odd about the casting, is the misuse of some great actors. Bruno Ganz, Toby Kebell and Dean Norris are essentially cameos and given such a excellent crop of acting calibre, it’s a shame to see them all sitting on the sidelines for the majority of the film.
This is a McCarthy script for better or worse – which, honestly, is mostly worse. The film seems to want to recapture that same philosophical western mood which No Country For Old Men seemed to wield effortlessly and ultimately fails. The cod philosophy is shoehorned awkwardly into scenes as characters, almost randomly, begin discussing the nature of mankind in a manner more akin to third year university students than what you’d expect from drug traffickers. As for the genre aspect, the film is jagged and misshapen with scenes and characters dropping in and out without any rhyme or reason. All elements which are introduced are followed to their endpoint, but they never seem to mesh into a cohesive whole.
As my cinematic companion described it, it’s like they put the skeleton of the story in but left out the spine. The problems can all be traced back to McCarthy’s script. There is a quite a large difference between writing prose and writing for the screen and this film is a great example of this fact. Even with these script problems, Scott wasn’t the person to make this film. He lacks the ability to make the more tangential elements gel with the rest of the story, and he proves just how good No Country For Old Men and The Road really were.
Ultimately the film is just a lot of wasted potential. The script is fundamentally flawed, the director helming it cannot resolve the issues and as a consequence a collection of excellent character actors are left plodding about. The film is baggy and wildly ill disciplined and amounts to another Scott film which toes that line between mediocre and awful. Will Murphy