Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Catching up with some hoped-to-be Oscar bait: THE COUNSELOR

Truth be told, THE COUNSELOR was one of those films that TrustMovies planned to wait for on Blu-ray. But the article by Scott Foundas in Variety claiming that this might be Ridley Scott's best, certainly his best in years, peaked my interest to the point that I forked over some cash while up in Newport, RI, to take a look. Forget Ridley Scott. Whatever he could do and did for the film is puny compared to the manner in which the dialog, written by Cormac McCarthy, torpedoes the entire project. This is possibly the worst screenplay I have ever encountered. As it is one of the few actually written by the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist himself, rather than adapted by others (Ted Tally on All the Pretty Horses, the Coens on No Country for Old Men; Joe Penhall on The Road, with that last, for my money, the best of the three), I think we can safely suggest that Mr. McCarthy stay away -- far away -- from motion picture dialog. Please.

What's wrong with the talk? Plenty. First, you might find one person out of everyone you know who speaks like this -- constantly with the philosophizing until it could drive you nuts. But when another person and another and another continues this "trend," you either start with the guffaws or run screaming from the theater. At the point, late in the film, where a simple Mexican hotel clerk begins doing this same thing, a couple of folk sitting behind us in the very empty theater waked out. We stayed, if only to learn how much worse things could get.

When Mamet, Pinter and Tarantino (to use three examples Foundas puts forth) write "stylized" dialog, there is more at work than an author who seems to love best the sound of his own voice. (True with the first two examples, at least.) And that dialog tends to sounds pretty real, too, however stylized it is, particularly when acted by the kind of professionals familiar with the ins and outs of Pinter and Mamet. It also always serves to push the plot along. When McCarthy does it, he brings everything to a dead halt. And the verbiage does not seem remotely believable -- unless these folk are having their discussion in some kind of weird philosophy class. But no, they're here in this movie, which is set somewhere on the Texas/Mexico border, and involves, yes, drug deals again. Doesn't it sometimes seem that nothing exists in the mind of mainstream movie-makers (independents, too, for that matter) except big-time drug deals -- most of them gone wrong, of course.

This movie is appalling. And not because there is anything wrong with having a very dark view of our world. I have one myself. But stacking the deck this heavily seems unnecessary at best -- if you indeed believe in what you're saying and doing -- and kind of sleazy at worst. The film also rather heavy-handedly adheres to the old Chekov gun theory, this time updating same with the "bolito," a particularly disgusting form of murder which we hear described and know full well that, before the film finishes, we'll get to see it in action.

The Counselor is very violent, technicolor noirish, and ugly -- with, as often happens in McCarthiana, the worst man (or woman) the winner. The A-list cast is certainly fun and pretty to watch. Michael Fassbender, this year's go-to guy for most everything, looks good and philosophizes nicely; Javier Bardem (above, left) looks silly as anything and philosophizes nuttily; Brad Pitt (at left, three photos up) looks smooth, svelte and western and philosophizes happily; Cameron Diaz is aging pretty well and philosophizes with a slight accent that seems to come and go; and Penélope Cruz, looking warm and lovely, doesn't much philosophize at all (so we like her best).

There's a pair of cheetahs, a convoluted plot that doesn't much matter, and a number of heads rolling off their bodies (someone rather important to this movie clearly has a fetish for decapitation). If you go in for that sort of thing, you'll likely to be in seventh heaven. Now that I think of it, this movie might be pretty spectacular -- if nasty -- should you decide to watch it with earplugs firmly in place.

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