“The Counselor”: A tale of mostly evil

Film Review
“The Counselor”: A tale of mostly evil
“The Counselor”- A tale of mostly evil“The Counselor,” Ridley Scott’s terrifying, implacable new movie, opens on a seductive scene. The setting is a softly lighted bedroom in which two people are murmuring under a white sheet. You don’t see who they are until there’s a cut to under the sheet, bringing you close enough to Michael Fassbender and Penélope Cruz to feel like an interloper.
The two are wrapped in a radiant intimacy, as if they were adrift in “the world of light” of Mount Olympus described by Homer in “The Odyssey,” that place where “gods live their days of pleasure.”
Gods fall though, few as mercilessly or memorably as those in “The Counselor,” a tale of good and evil, but because it was written by Cormac McCarthy, mostly evil. Fassbender plays the title character: a corrupt, unnamed, high-flying Texas lawyer. He moves fast, as does this film, which soon jumps from Olympus to a garage in Mexico, where men and dogs slip through shadows, jumps north of the border where another woman rides a horse, flanked by a cheetah chasing a jackrabbit. The hare escapes in a swirl of dust, but by the end of this scene, Scott has seized your attention with a primitive, predatory vision, one red in tooth and claw.
The cheetah is tame; the woman, Malkina (Cameron Diaz), profoundly less so. Both live with Reiner (an excellent Javier Bardem) and a second cheetah in a lavish desert compound, a kind of a Donatella Versace delirium, with bulbous bodybuilders manning the gates and sleek rides purring in the drive.
A nightclub owner, Reiner has a dangerous sideline doing business with a drug cartel with which he has negotiated a deal involving the Counselor. It hinges on a huge narcotics shipment that’s under way when the movie opens, putting you in the midst of an operation you have to catch up to even as the Counselor hurtles forward, hopscotching from place to place as other characters enter and exit.
From all the ellipses, as well as the eccentric, mesmerizing poetry of his dialogue, McCarthy appears to have never read a screenwriting manual in his life (and that is meant as a compliment!). Although there’s a fairly blunt, near-archetypal aspect to the main characters — their expensive homes, sports cars and designer clothes speak the language of money fluently — the plot remains deliberately unobvious for a long time. In between, the Counselor has long conversations — filled with jokes, archaic words, odd cadences and frightening anecdotes — with both Reiner and another man, Westray (Brad Pitt), a philosophical cowboy in a white Stetson and tailored Western suit.
The story may be initially elusive, but there’s a clarity, solidity and stillness to his images that augment the narrative’s gravity and inexorable momentum.
Like the Counselor’s lover, Laura (Penelope Cruz), the natural world is a reminder of another reality beyond the brutal one the cartel, Westray and the others have made. And it’s these reminders that anchor you, if only during the progressively unnerving hour when you don’t know what is happening but do know — from the menacing talk to the grim-reaper smiles — that it will turn out badly.
Nothing is spoken in “The Counselor” even as everything is said. Westray and Reiner share bloody tales that only make ghastly sense later. This is no country for anyone. Every so often, someone says something that puts the stakes and intensifying throb of fear into unambiguous perspective.
The Counselor scarcely blinks and may smile. “My back,” he later says while driving his Bentley, “is up against the wall.” Fassbender, softening his face and speaking with the measured calm of a reasonable, thinking man, makes the Counselor seem too rational for this madness.
It’s no surprise when the violence — methodical, almost surgical and thrill-free — does come; the surprise is how long it takes to arrive. This delay of the inevitable worst helps amplify the dread, your trepidation stoked by Reiner and Westray’s stories, Malkina’s dead-eyed stare, the prowling cheetahs and the rumbling truck.
The movie’s title may make cruel sense — the Counselor is a man who himself takes no counsel — but a truer encapsulation of its worldview is “No Exit.”

-With New Age input

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