It’s hard to get past Cameron Diaz’s sex-with-a-sports-car scene in “The Counselor.” Not “IN” the car, but “with” it. The twisted Cormac McCarthy wrote it, the visually indulgent Ridley Scott directed it and Diaz acted the heck out of it. And once viewed, there’s no way you can un-see that.
But it’s an indulgent moment in an absurdly indulgent thriller. That phrase, “murder your darlings,” drummed into writers long before William Faulkner and later Steven King popularized it, never crossed McCarthy’s fevered mind as he wrote and overwrote this murky drug trade tale about murky characters with murkier motives and the murkier-still deal that goes wrong with their fingerprints all over it.
It’s so gosh darned quotable! Almost every static scene before the inevitable murderous McCarthy (“No Country for Old Men”,”The Road”) violence boils up is big-name actors swapping pithy bon mots about the bad things they do for a living or to each other in bed.
The corrupt lawyer in the title role (Michael Fassbender) doesn’t deliver these zingers. He listens as people like the diamond merchant (Bruno Ganz of “Downfall”) explains his stones and philosophy of life.
“This is a cynical business. We seek only…imperfection.”
The lawyer’s buying his ladyfriend (Penelope Cruz) a very expensive diamond, even though he’s got unexplained money problems. Flying to Amsterdam for jewels and driving home from the airport in a Bentley convertible means they need no explanation.
He talks women with his nightclub-owner/drug smuggling client (Javier Bardem), a Texan who keeps pet cheetahs and the wicked Malkina (Cameron Diaz).
“The truth about women,” Reiner (Bardem) declares, “is that you can do anything but bore them…I’ve always liked smart women, but it’s been an expensive hobby.”
Which explains her and the Ferrari and that scene you can’t erase from your mind.
Reiner is leading the lawyer into the trade, but he’s not alone. The Counselor consults with the drawling Westray (Brad Pitt). Who’s just as quotable.
“You don’t know someone until you know what they want.”
There’s a Mexican septic truck hauling drugs across the border to points north, and everybody seems to have an angle on it or connection to its fate, even if they don’t know it.
“The Counselor” is a film of chewy scenes which piece together in a less than wholly coherent fashion. Throw-away moments abound. Send Malkina to a priest, even though she’s not Catholic. Send The Counselor to Mexico. Stage meeting after meeting that doesn’t advance the plot, but which does have the kind of McCarthy dialogue that lures “names” to even smaller roles.
“You are the world you created,” intones Ruben Blades in the film’s third act. McCarthy keeps introducing new characters and giving them lovely things to say, all the way to the closing credits.
It’s a bloody film — as you might expect — and a bloody cluttered one, with relationships under-developed and characters sent hither and yon — Juarez, Boise, Amsterdam, London, El Paso — running in place as they get in deeper or sprint away from the bloody mess that their actions have led to.
Scott and McCarthy have concocted a tone poem to the current state of the bloody border country, with its ruthless and generally faceless cartels infiltrating America and American “entrepreneurs” not realizing the Pandora’s Box they open when they let their greed get the better of them and dip a toe in this deadly trade. There are no good guys, here. Not a one.
Among the players, the wild-haired Bardem stands out, and a vampy Diaz sets the stage for an uninhibited future in villain roles, or deadly-sexy car sales.
As Reiner so aptly puts it after telling the story of her character’s Ferrari fornication, “You see a thing like that, it changes you.”
MPAA Rating: R for graphic violence, some grisly images, strong sexual content and language
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Cameron Diaz, Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt, Natalie Dormer, John Leguizamo, Ruben Blades
Credits: Directed by Ridley Scott, written by Cormac McCarthy. A Fox release.
Running time: 2:00