With Ridley Scott at the helm, Cormac McCarthy on writing duties, and - count them - five big film stars in the leads, The Counselor purports to tell a story about a lawyer who gets mixed up in a shady drug deal, and comes to realize the full extend of his transgression, when the deal goes bad.
Seems like an easy movie to pull off, right? I mean, it's not like trying to do a sorta-prequel-but-not-really to a beloved science fiction franchise, with a script written by a 12-year-old, right? Ridley Scott doesn't mess up this film quite in the same spectacular fashion as he messed up Prometheus, but does that really matter, when the end result is equally moronic?
The Counselor is a series of loosely connected scenes. Some of them dance around the simple central plot concerning the drug deal, others merely sketch the outline of the characters, with pretend coolness and dull philosophical musings on the nature of man.
The film has two speeds: 1) Wordless plot-driven scenes, without much context. 2) Word-heavy plot-less scenes, without much context. Somehow, despite the heavy running time, the filmmakers forgot to include an actual story.
We're told there's a drug deal, but save for a few casual conversations, and some shots of a truck smuggling drugs, we know nothing about it. When the deal inevitably goes bad, we're told the drug dealers are upset. What drug dealers? What are they upset over? We've seen no drug dealers, no deal, and no action from any of the characters that anybody could be upset over. As far as we know our hero has done little else but say 'I'm in', but in the world of The Counselor this constitutes a plot.
The story flat-out doesn't make sense. Why would the Counselor risk everything on a shady drug deal? Is he in financial trouble? Alright, show us a scene with that. Skip the 10-minute scene where he checks out a club with his partner and we're forced to endure a stupid story about a drunken adventure.
It's carefully explained to us, in vivid details, how cruel and vicious these drug dealers are. Why? Why would professional drug dealers behave like punks or psychotic mass-murderers? Why would they assume they've been conned, immediately go after the presumed guilty and exercise the most brutal revenge imaginable, thus thoroughly preventing themselves from figuring out what really happened, and recover the lost revenue? I can see killing everybody to make a point to the next guy in line, and to maintain a reputation, but wouldn't you do it after you've recovered the stolen goods?
Sidebar: I watched the extended version of the film, which plays 20 minutes longer than the theatrical cut. If I didn't know any better, I would have thought I watched a version with 20 minutes missing. At least.
I could go on eviscerating the characters, the casting, the huge gaps in logic, the overall rhythm of the story, but why bother? The simple truth is that the filmmakers behind The Counselor forgot to tell us a story. They forgot to include characters we can love or hate, they forgot everything that makes a movie worth watching. They've created a good-looking world, with brief flashes of masterful film-making, but it's completely impenetrable, and when all is said and done completely mundane.
Here's a hot tip for every would-be filmmaker out there: It's a lot more interesting to watch characters pay for their sins, if we're remotely aware they've committed any.