Rating: Wrapped around my 5-day murder trial last week I saw Machete Kills and The Counselor. Both are fitting tributes to my client’s massive shortcomings.
There is something so fundamentally hideous about the Mexican Drug Cartel that paralyzes any attempt to bring it to the big screen. Director Oliver Stone stumbled throughout in last year’s Savages, and the great Ridley Scott follows in his footsteps with The Counselor.
Quite frankly, its only strength comes from the screenplay by Cormac McCarthy, awash in developments that leaves you asking more than once, “What in the hell is going on?” Most viewers will soon realize that you are on a roller coaster ride into the depths of human depravity.
The plot focuses on a drug deal that goes bad in every possible way. Violence descends on everyone in a fashion seldom seen on the screen, and no one dies an easy death. It’s like swimming in a sea of sharks, knowing that one will eventually eat you.
The allure of the film comes from its talented cast, led by Michael Fassbender. Playing an attorney known only as the counselor, he succumbs to greed and gets involved in financing a load of cocaine coming in from Mexico. Engaged to the beautiful Penelope Cruz, their relationship is seen as based solely on sex with no holds barred and no part of the body going untouched.
Mr. Fassbender’s counselor arranges his drug deal through Javier Bardem, a master crook with great hair. Like everyone else in the film, Bardem loves to drink, and seldom wastes the opportunity. It is clear that he is fully aware that his luck will eventually run out, a feeling accentuated by a delirious performance from Cameron Diaz as his girlfriend.
Ironically, Ms. Diaz is the center of the entire film, playing a wildly tattooed Barbados escapee with bright silver fingernails. She is as conniving as she is nasty, and the scene where she actually proceeds to make love to the windshield of Bardem’s car will not be soon forgotten. Bardem stared in shock from behind the steering wheel, and you’ll feel like you are peeking from the back seat.
Finally, Brad Pitt appears as a confidante of the counselor, a man who knows when it is time to cut and run. Without giving it away, he meets a fate while fleeing to London that is nearly as visually shocking as anything you will see in a modern film.
Director Ridley Scott has given us some extraordinary films over the years, and it is always worth remembering Blade Runner (1982); Thelma & Louise (1991); Gladiator (2000) and the underrated Prometheus (2012). Here, however, his artistic reach exceeds his grasp, and you are left with a film that glories in the demise of its characters.
While I won’t tell you the one person who lives at the end, it is fair to say that he escapes death because his protagonists simply want him to live with the crushing memory of the drastic consequences brought to those he loves. This film is the devil in human form, so you are warned.