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COUNSELOR, THE

SYNOPSIS:
A lawyer (Michael Fassbender) finds himself in over his head when he gets involved in drug trafficking via Westray (Brad Pitt) and Reiner (Javier Bardem), putting not only his own life in danger but also his fiancee, Laura (Penélope Cruz).

Review by Louise Keller:
Intriguing from the get-go, Ridley Scott's superbly directed thriller distinguishes itself by its complex, colourful and mostly bad characters. This is the debut screenplay by author Cormac McCarthy, who won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for his novel The Road (adapted by Joe Penhall in 2009) and also wrote No Country for Old Men, which was adapted by the Coen Brothers in 2007. He can clearly tell a good yarn. Like its moral dilemmas, the storytelling here is not straightforward. The plot plays out like walking on stepping stones over a perilous river, never knowing where the destination will be or what evils lurk submerged. Greed and lust are the drivers and it is one hell of a ride.

The film begins with an intimate sex scene under the sheets between Michael Fassbender and Penelope Cruz, who cannot get enough of each other - both physically and emotionally. The 'cautionary' 3.9 carat diamond Fassbender's Counselor buys her alerts us to the cautionary nature of the tale. It's a hot start and the temperature is about to rise. Fassbender delivers another fine performance as the lawyer involved in a once-only illegal drug deal involving cartels and very nasty people.

Truth has no temperature, observes Cameron Diaz, as the predatory, cynical Malkina whose statement look with dark roots and angular blond hair are in keeping with her statement jewellery. Her two pet cheetahs which sport elaborate diamante-studded collars and hunt their prey with grace, are an extension of her. Malkina is dressed to kill with a sensational wardrobe, animal-print tattoos and metallic nails that have a mercenary look. Diaz looks and is sensational. Reiner (Javier Bardem) clearly finds her a handful as her eye-boggling sexual exploits on the windscreen of his Ferrari reveal. Reiner comments, 'You can never be the same after something like that: women have funny ideas about sex.' The scene in which Malkina the atheist attempts to confess her sins to a catholic priest is also an eye-opener. Bardem invents yet another wonderful creation with spiky hair, a vulgar wardrobe and an addiction to women and a luxury lifestyle.

The other key character is Brad Pitt's Westray, who wears a cowboy hat, his hair long and readily admits his weakness is women. Women are the Achilles heel of all three leading men. Couched by charm, his handsome features almost a distraction, the way he alerts the Counselor to the tenor of the potential dangers (snuff movies, the deadly bolo weapon, bodies casually tossed into garbage tips and heads in barrels) is chilling.

While some of the detail of the $20million drug deal is a bit unclear, the involvement of the main characters is not. Like the face cards in a pack, their colourful nature is the best part of the film. Actions have consequences and by the time we hear the monologue about philosophical realities, it is clear that it is too late to change fate's course. Graphic violence, tension and characters that are so alive they simply jump from the screen all make for highly enjoyable viewing in this slick and sophisticated thriller that doubles as a biting morality tale.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The good news is that Javier Bardem as flamboyant drug dealer and night club owner Reiner and Cameron Diaz as the nasty, sex-crazed schemer Malkina deliver smashing characters with edge and panache. Both are on the wrong side of the law, as is everyone else except The Counselor's gorgeous girlfriend, Laura (Penélope Cruz). But being greedy and wicked does make for interesting characters, and it's here that film gives us cinematic pleasure.

Not that Brad Pitt fails to live up to his high standard, but his character, while exotic, is still shades below those other two, as is Michael Fassbender's Counselor. (It gets a trifle irritating without a name, everyone calling him 'Counselor' until the word loses its shape and form and meaning...even its irony.)

The filmmakers so enjoy their cinematic playroom they elevate scenes they like to a status well above their weight in the context of the story. But that's the style of the film. Hey, let's throw this jigsaw packet on the table and place pieces at random - won't that keep audiences on their toes?!

Reduced to its bare essentials, The Counselor is a film with an unoriginal plot about greed and drug money, masquerading as a meaningful observation of human behaviour. The McCormack screenplay is too full of speeches that address the latter but border on the wanky and Scott's direction is too much concerned with showing off. Even the violence is showy - as well as vicious, a bit like the sex.

It looks like everyone tries too hard to impress, notably with OTT wardrobe; Diaz is dressed to kill, with appropriate ornaments, which include two sleek cheetahs. She likes to watch them hunt their prey with deadly elegance. Very metaphoric, we eventually discover.

Every element of the film is designed for maximum impact, no matter how small its part in the big picture - such as an extended early scene in which an Amsterdam diamond dealer (Bruno Ganz) gives Counselor (and us) a lesson in diamond valuation - showing off McCarthy's extensive knowledge. He's just buying a ring for Laura ... Details are Scott's forte, and he drives the film's tension with attention to them, but the process also acts as a sleight of hand to divert our attention. It also rather dries out the visceral impact the film could have had.

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 1
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 1

COUNSELOR, THE (MA15+)
(US/UK, 2013)

CAST: Michael Fassbender, Penélope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt, Dean Norris, Rosie Perez, Goran Visnjic, Bruno Ganz

PRODUCER: Ridley Scott, Paula Mae Schwartz, Steve Schwartz, Nick Wechsler

DIRECTOR: Ridley Scott

SCRIPT: Cormac McCarthy

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Dariusz Wolski

EDITOR: Pietro Scalia

MUSIC: Daniel Pemberton

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Arthus Max

RUNNING TIME: 117 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 7, 2013







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