Review: ‘The Counselor’ is sexy, hilarious and brilliant |

Review: ‘The Counselor’ is sexy, hilarious and brilliant

Richard Roeper
Universal Press Syndicate
This photo released by Twentieth Century Fox shows Michael Fassbender, left, as The Counselor, and Javier Bardem, as Reiner, in the film, "The Counselor." (AP Photo/Copyright Twentieth Century Fox, Kerry Brown)
AP | Twentieth Century Fox

About 115 minutes into the 117-minute running time of “The Counselor,” I wasn’t 1,000 percent sure where everyone was and what they were doing and why they were doing it — and that’s a beautiful thing.

In an era where far too many “thrillers” consist of logic-defying car chases and anti-heroes who survive explosions and shootouts that would take down a Marvel character, director Ridley Scott and screenwriter Cormac McCarthy have fashioned a sexy, sometimes shockingly violent, literate and richly textured tale of the Shakespearean consequences of one man’s irrevocable act of avarice.

It’s also a bloody great time. “The Counselor” achieves the almost unheard-of daily double of giving us the most outrageous sex scene of the year AND the most unforgettably brutal murder of the year. This is a badass journey from start to finish.

Michael Fassbender, on a career roll, is brilliant playing an ice-cool, handsome, impeccably attired and self-assured to the point of arrogance attorney known to one and all simply as “the Counselor.” He tools around Texas in a white convertible Bentley, lives in a home straight off the cover of Architectural Digest — and he’s in love with the beguiling Laura (Penelope Cruz), who just might be the only pure-hearted person in his life (and in the movie). You’d think the Counselor has it made, but he’s facing financial pressures that aren’t exactly mitigated when he purchases an engagement ring for Laura that’s worth the GNP of some small countries.

After the Counselor makes the fateful decision to plunge neck-deep into the world of drug trafficking, he circulates through a world populated with some of the best-written and fascinating characters imaginable. Each could merit his or her own movie. The major players include:

— Javier Bardem as the wild-haired, perpetually partying Reiner, who operates nightclubs and facilitates nefarious deals with a smile. Reiner favors the loudest shirts this side of a Vegas magician, and he enjoys watching his pet cheetahs chase down jackrabbits on the Texas prairie. In an infectious performance, Bardem makes Reiner one of the more likable major criminals in recent movie history.

— Cameron Diaz does some of her best work as Reiner’s girlfriend, Malkina, who has a gold tooth and a tattoo that starts around her neck and goes all the way to Amarillo. Whether she’s rocking a priest’s world in the confessional or doing things on Reiner’s car one might not have thought possible, Malkina exudes such a combination of temptation and evil you half expect men who look at her to turn to stone.

— Brad Pitt, who could make a great living as a character actor were it not for the fact he’s making a great living as a leading man, pops up as the cowboy dandy Westray, who serves as the go-between for the Counselor and a Mexican drug cartel. You know the guy in the airport lounge who has all the best stories? Westray has way better stories.

McCarthy’s screenplay allows plenty of time for Reiner and Westray, each in his own unique way, to caution the Counselor about the business he’s entering. “I’ll keep that in mind,” the Counselor says again and again as Westray explains the Counselor is going into business with people who have no moral or ethical boundaries. And yet we know he won’t.

Amidst all the sometimes abstract, lyrical, artfully crafted dialogue, there are jarring episodes of violence that rank among the most graphic bloodshed Ridley Scott has put on film — and we’re talking about the man who directed “Gladiator,” “American Gangster” and “Hannibal.” You’ll be hard-pressed not to look away during one particularly gruesome (and ingeniously filmed) murder sequence.

The story of the delivery of some $21 million of drugs from Mexico to Chicago is revisited from time to time, but that’s really just the recipe for the larger tale of a man who willingly endangers his safety and the well-being of the love of his life, all in the name of greed.

Every few scenes, “The Counselor” gives us another choice cameo, from Rosie Perez as an inmate who asks for the Counselor’s help and sets off a fateful chain of events, to John Leguizamo and Dean Norris (Hank on “Breaking Bad”) as a couple of seedy characters in a warehouse, to Ruben Blades as a mystery man who delivers a telephoned soliloquy containing many poignant, heartbreaking truths.

“The Counselor” glistens like a diamond and cuts like a serrated knife. It’s filled with gorgeous people speaking gorgeous prose about some of the loveliest and some of the very darkest corners of the human soul.

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