‘The Counselor’ could use some counseling on making us care about its characters

Writer Cormac McCarthy is not known for creating feel-good stories. His Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Road” was a dreary chronicling of a man and his son’s attempts to survive in a post-apocalyptic world, and his “No Country for Old Men” presented one of the coldest, scariest characters in the professional killer Anton Chigurh.

McCarthy now has written the screenplay “The Counselor,” teaming up with director Ridley Scott. The result is a mixed bag, a talky movie interspersed with brutal violence — a study of rich but grim people, obsessed and greedy, driven by their extravagant needs to venture into a world where they are in way over their heads. In the end there are only three sympathetic characters — and two of them are cheetahs.

The title character has no name — he is referred to throughout ast “the counselor.” He is played by Michael Fassbender, and with this actor’s formidable screen presence — and as some teasers hinted in the trailers — it seemed like this character was going to be a savvy and manipulative man, pulling the strings and well in control. Instead, he turns out to be the most totally out of his element lawyer-gone-bad since William Hurt’s Ned Racine in “Body Heat.”

The counselor is an El Paso-based attorney living a lavish lifestyle. He jets off to Amsterdam to purchase a diamond ring for the love of his life, Laura (Penelope Cruz). Yet he has some financial issues that have driven him to invest in drug trafficking with a couple of partners — club owner Reiner (Javier Bardem) and Westray (Brad Pitt), a veteran in the drug-shipping world who prides himself in knowing the constant dangers of the business, bragging that he has the capability of dropping out and disappearing quickly if things go wrong.

The counselor does a favor for an imprisoned client, Ruth (Rosie Perez), helping her son get out of jail, and an incredible coincidence involving a septic tank truck used to smuggle a drug shipment mistakenly implicates the counselor, making him a marked target for the drug cartel, which dispenses with due process.

With all this heat, the counselor and Reiner wilt like a couple of flowers in a drought while Westray delivers his “you’re out of luck and I’m outa here” speech. In the background is Reiner’s girlfriend Malkina (Cameron Diaz) who obviously loves living the well-to-do life and seems to have her own agenda.

McCarthy’s script is filled with philosophical tangents — which seem comical given that they are delivered by people who sell drugs and kill people — along with some breaks from the story so the men can talk about women and sex.

By the time all this plays out, the only character worth feeling sorry for is Laura — so blindingly in love with the counselor and ignorant of the dirty dealings in which he is engaged. The cheetahs, meanwhile, are two pets just doing their thing, then gazing at the people around them and seemingly thinking: how pathetic. Really.

 

Blazing its way along the guilty pleasure path to a $32 million box-office opening weekend is “Bad Grandpa,” presented by the same wacky minds that brought us the “Jackass” movies.

Among the “Jackass” stunts were little interludes in which Johnny Knoxville, disguised as an octogenarian, takes some nasty spills and/or behaves in the most obnoxious ways. In “Bad Grandpa,” this ultimate dirty old man gets a showcase.

Using the hidden-camera format that Alan Funt perfected with his “Candid Camera” adventures, “Bad Grandpa” sets up a story line in which Knoxville’s old man, Irving Zisman, is recently widowed, and at his wife’s funeral his daughter shows up, says she has to go to jail and demands that Irving take his 8-year-old grandson Billy to North Carolina to his estranged father. Irving is reluctant but has no choice.

So the road show begins. Irving and Billy are put into scenarios that involve people who do not know they are being filmed for a movie. One might suspect that not all of the scenes were legitimately candid — for example, would the filmmakers actually go in and have Irving destroy a real wedding cake?

The humor is very crude and some cases, cringe-inducing. The fun in the movie is seeing what’s the next thing this unlikely duo will get tangled up in and how outrageous they will get. Interestingly, despite being low-brow in its humor, this movie did attract Catherine Keener, who agreed to play a corpse, Irving’s departed wife Ellie.

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>