Review: The Counselor

the counselor

A story of a lawyer who decides to enter into the world of drug trafficking but things begin to spiral out of control rather quickly for him. Directed by Ridley Scott with an original screenplay by famed writer Cormac McCarthy (No Country for Old Men), the movie features an ensemble cast that include Michael Fassbender, Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt, and Cameron Diaz to name a few. Frankly, this is one of the most disjointed films I have seen in some time. With such a powerful cast, great director, and excellent writer this movie should have been an easy victory. However, the movie just gets crushed under its own bloated weight. With a narrative that is so tangentially put together there is no wonder why I just lost interest after a while. The movie begins with the Counselor (Michael Fassbender) in bed with his soon to be fiancee Laura (Penelope Cruz) as they share what is suppose to be a sensual moment between them. However, the scene made my skin crawl, as it seemed like an adult man with an inexperienced little girl. The dialogue in that scene lacked any sort of realism between two fully functional adult sexual beings. This was my first clue that things might be going off the rails. For an original screenplay by Cormac McCarthy the dialogue felt clunky and all over the place; which is sadly an overarching issue with this movie.

Throughout the movie we get to meet an array of really good looking people who are incredibly wealthy and are living life to the fullest, by any means necessary. One such couple is Reiner (Javier Bardem) and Malkina (Cameron Diaz) who play as the go betweens for the Counselor and his newly found lifestyle as a member of the drug trade. Reiner is an over the top drug kingpin who host lavish parties and is beginning to realize that his ruthless girlfriend, Malkina, is going to be his downfall. Malkina is a cold and calculating sociopath. She uses her hypersexuality as a means to seduce men and bend them to her will. She has an overarching grasp of the totalitarity of the movie’s plot, but due to poor writing its hard to understand why she does. Another key figure in this madness of a plot is Westray (Brad Pitt), a true middle man who knows the drug trafficking game and brings the Counselor into the fold. He is frequently sought out by the Counselor for advice on what happens next. Westray plays as your guide through this world of cartels, shady dealings, and vengeful women.

Cameron Diaz The Counselor

When I sat down to watch The Counselor I was so sure this movie would be a slam dunk. However, 30 minutes into the film I could not truly point to any one story thread that was going anywhere. We are treated to constant expositions by Fassbender, Bardem, Pitt, and Diaz that try incredibly hard to be relevant but just work to lead us further away from the plot. The movie seems to be setup in the style of 5-8 minute vignettes that barely tie together. Characters are introduced and then never heard from again; most of the time not even referenced. There are moments of brutal violence that play to enhance the story’s realness, but they are few and far between. There is little to no dialogue in the movie that works to push the movie forward. Fassbender’s Counselor seems to just ask questions and everyone else seems to be determined to speak in riddles and conjecture to horribly answer said questions.

There are high speed decapitations, public cartel executions, women having sex WITH cars, and those are the highlights. The Counselor, felt more like a 2 hour advertisement for good looking tailored suits, impeccably dressed women, good looking people, and international travel than anything resembling a story of greed and misfortune. The plot was so all over the place that you didn’t care about anyone’s tragedy. The deaths and misfortunes have zero impact because you never get to know anyone. An hour into the movie I thought to myself, “wow when this movie gets going this is going to be something to see.” There was nothing to see, ever.

Javier Bardem The Counselor

The truly odd thing is the acting in the movie wasn’t terrible. Fassbender was fantastic as usual. Sans two scenes in the film I thought he was relatively flawless. He was great as the new guy in this illegal business who just couldn’t turn away. He played both sides of his “normal” life and his “new” life’s work and you generally liked him onscreen. Bardem and Diaz pulled off decent performances, Bardem far surpassing Diaz here. Bardem was able to play a manic yet considerably cool customer when it came to his drug business. Brad Pitt worked well as the envoy into trafficking with his cool Southwestern motif. However, due to his small amount of screen time he was not explored fully. Outside of the principal actors the movie just threw in tons of heavy hitters and wasted them. Ruben Blades, John Leguizamo, Dean Norris, Rosie Perez, and others are absolutely wasted. As a slow truck carrying barrels of hidden drugs goes from Mexico all the way to Chicago effecting the lives of all these people forever, I just simply didn’t care. The Counselor is this year’s The Tourist. A beautifully shot movie with a great cast that should have never happened.

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Review: Skyfall

Skyfall Review I had mixed emotions going into Skyfall. On the one hand as a long time fan of James Bond, I had very high expectations for the film given the pedigree of those involved. On the other hand I tend to always set expectations high for Bond films and have been disappointed on a few occasions (most recently with the 2008 release of Quantum of Solace). Thankfully, director Sam Mendes has met my lofty expectations and has delivered the best Daniel Craig Bond film and perhaps the best Bond film overall. Skyfall begins with Bond and fellow field agent Eve (Naomie Harris) in pursuit of a mercenary who has stolen a hard drive containing the names of various undercover operatives embedded in terrorist organizations. The scene is some of the most entertaining and wonderfully shot action I’ve seen from a pre-credit sequence. The mission takes a bad turn and Bond is shot, goes M.I.A. and presumed dead. As the events of the movie unfold, Bond is lured out of hiding to come to the aid of his commanding officer M (Judi Dench) who is being targeted by the films antagonist Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem). Skyfall has a refreshingly simple plot that doesn’t juggle too many details and allows viewers to focus on the individual characters.

Daniel Craig comes into his own as James Bond. We are able to see the full range of his acting talents. He portrays a Bond with a wide variety of emotion. He shows insecurity at the fact that he may be too old to continue doing his job, exudes confidence and sophistication when trying to extract intel from a beautiful woman, and genuine sadness and vulnerability as he embraces a loved one. It’s a performance that solidifies himself as the quintessential Bond. Craig’s performance is matched by Javier Bardem’s wonderful portrayal of Raoul Silva. He doesn’t show up until about half way into the film but when he does, he commands your attention. Violent, charismatic, sympathetic, and completely unhinged, Raoul Silva is one of the best villains in the Bond franchise.

These two characters are linked by the Bond girl of the film. No, not Naomie Harris, whose playful flirtatious banter with 007 feels a tad bit forced. Nor is it Berenice Marlohe, who is a more traditional Bond girl in the same vein as Jill Masterson or Paris Carver. Skyfall’s true Bond girl is M. She isn’t just a simple plot device for the hero and villain to fight over. This is M’s story as much as it is Bond’s. More than ever before, we see this character as more than just an “evil queen of numbers.” The relationship between Dench’s M and Craig’s Bond isn’t just a simple work relationship and more of a dysfunctional mother-son relationship. These three characters are the main focus of the story but the supporting cast is also excellent. Ben Whishaw as the new Q in particular is great at portraying the seriousness of a man who never jokes about his work while being more than just the guy that hands out gadgets. The relationship between Craig and Whishaw is something I will look forward to in the subsequent Bond films.

Skyfall is a fitting tribute to half a century worth of espionage action. It recognizes its roots in ways that will make long time Bond fans smile but is aware that the franchise needs to stay current if it is to last another 50 years. Sam Mendes has created a love letter to Bond fans old and new and reminds us that when it comes to spy films, nobody does it better.

(Sorry about the pun. I couldn’t help myself.)