Being sold in a more niche, arthouse light can only have helped public opinion of the gaudy Ridley Scott/Cormac McCarthy vehicle, The Counselor - not that it really shows. The narrative follows Michael Fassbender’s ‘Counselor,’ who gets wrapped up in a drug trafficking scheme gone bad and endangers everyone around him.
For a movie manned solely by Hollywood powerhouses, it's tempting to give it the benefit of the doubt. Shitty critical reception? That’s fine; it’s Scott applying his visual knack to McCarthy’s signature flair, it should have some artistic merit. Tanked at the box office? All the best dirty lawyer films do. The film even retains some abstract appeal to your good tastes: with Michael Fassbender, Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem and Brad Pitt waxing lyrical and a technical pedigree that has only smacked of success in the past (McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men, Scott’s - well, anything before Gladiator, really). And while it’s admirable the film strived for a distinct philosophical voice, the end result is nothing but platitudinous. And boring.
The unique styles of McCarthy and Scott play off each other in amusing ways. Whether it's in the way that ludicrous Diaz-humping-the-windscreen anecdote was framed so seriously, or the joy in depicting the spray of arterial blood onto a crowded London street - the film’s aloof nature is both a hindrance and a pleasure. It’s enjoyable in the way that low-budget, B-grade horror films are: you watch them because you know they’re dumb and completely excessive and they know it too. You’re free to revel in the inanity of it all. Which The Counselor comes very close to achieving, if only it acknowledged the fact that it’s completely silly (Javier Bardem owns two leopards and no one says anything about it).
The downside of all of this lavish ridiculousness is that the dialogue-heavy script hits the mark on only some of its musings on life, love and the hazards of choice and the general bulk of the overtly-sexualised conversation is jarring. McCarthy seems to have taken a leaf out of Quentin Tarantino's long list of tropes and given them all a minor in philosophy. The end result feels like those irrelevant, tangential conversations Tarantino's known for, but their content is entirely pretentious. None more noteworthy than the call Fassbender makes to Rubén Blades’ character, who’s only discernible role in the film was to spout off lines that made Fassbender cry.
With the flash-in-a-pan shitstorm that was its public response, the film has drummed up its own brand of hype. It’s not positive, but hype don’t discriminate. And due to the wildly varied reasons people have for going to the cinemas in the first place (is Jennifer Lawrence in it?) and a general vulnerability to public discourse, The Counselor still has a place in movie-going schedules, whether you guys want it there or not. You will see it with apathy in your heart, but there’s the feeling that no-one involved in the film cares who sees it anyway.