There’s a certain cadence to “The Counselor,” from the opening scene of two beautiful people whispering intimacies under flowing white bed sheets to a downward spiral ending where gritty despair fills the air, director Ridley Scott and Pulitzer Prize winning writer Cormac McCarthy are quite a pair.
Although not for everyone, the intellectual thriller does have a similar tone to McCarthy’s “No Country for Old Men.” This is McCarthy’s first screenplay and, for some, it will be bothersome that the script plays out more like a written novel than a screenplay -- contemplative dialogue leaves room for pondering and characters wax philosophical, but that’s the beauty of “The Counselor.” Scott’s camera delights in the big-name cast as he affords them the opportunity to deliberately luxuriate over the sometimes too cerebral conversation.
The overarching theme here is greed and self-indulgence, where wealthy people make their money in a world of violence that finds its way through many layers. While the look is glam on the outside, the interior of this underworld is seedy and brutal. McCarthy’s ever-present theme of the choices people make and the consequences their actions create is on red alert here. It’s a consistent cautionary tale and one that’s hammered home throughout the film.
Michael Fassbinder is the unnamed counselor, a Texas attorney who gets caught up in a drug deal. He’s already rolling in dough, it appears, as he cruises the streets in his Bentley convertible, and travels to Amsterdam to buy his fiancée a flawless diamond.
Javier Bardem is Rainer, a goofy party boy nightclub owner who lives the high life, surrounded by luxury and beautiful women. His latest entanglement is with Malkina, a femme fatale whose body is adorned by cheetah spot tattoos. She plays with men and money like a game of Twister, duping them with her sexuality. It’s a delicious role for Cameron Diaz and one that fits her like the sleek Thomas Whylde clothes she wears. Malkina’s bad girl looks are already taking over fashion runways. A scene where Rainer narrates a story of a sexual charade that Malkina performs on the windshield of his yellow Ferrari shows Diaz’s seductive rendering of Malkina as she milks McCarthy’s knack of having his characters speak volumes without saying a word.
Penelope Cruz as The Counselor’s congenial fiancée is the only character that seems without flaw in the film, and McCarthy’s metaphor of having her presented with the near perfect diamond enhances this message. Adding to the all-star cast is a scruffy Brad Pitt as a cowboy with a existential attitude who seems to spout phrases swiped from a Zen master’s handbook.
This is a film fraught with dangerous messages: the company you keep, actions that create consequences, impulsive decisions made that have undesirable outcomes not only for the decision maker but for those who surround him.
The characters in “The Counselor” are genuinely unsavory, but what makes them interesting is their willingness to go as far as it takes to get their self-indulgent needs met. McCarthy and Scott are a terrific twosome, pushing the envelope as far as it can go. While “The Counselor” is sure to get mixed reviews, there’s no mistaking the final verdict -- this is a smart, sexy and edgy movie whose target audience is an above average filmgoer.