No stars (turkey). Rating: R, for graphic violence, grisly images, profanity and strong sexual content
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 10.25.13
Cormac McCarthy apparently felt that 2009’s big-screen adaptation of his novel The Road wasn’t sufficiently bleak, violent or morally depraved, so he upped his game with the original screenplay for this glossy bit of rubbish.
Rarely have so many A-list stars been involved in such a lamentable waste of time.
The Counselor isn’t merely set in a world of abominable behavior; McCarthy’s characters are cheerfully pragmatic about it. No act too vile to contemplate? They don’t merely contemplate; they discuss barbarism with the thoughtful ease of two fellows comparing cigar brands in a gentlemen’s club. Then, having laboriously exhausted the subject, director Ridley Scott ensures that we’ll eventually get to watch each degenerate act.
McCarthy has a Pulitzer Prize to his credit, for the aforementioned The Road, and rumor suggests that he’s under consideration for a Nobel Prize for literature. The characters in his novels often struggle with moral ambiguity in an increasingly cynical world, although we’re generally able to sympathize with a well-meaning protagonist, whether John Grady Cole in All the Pretty Horses, or Sheriff Ed Tom Bell in the grimmer No Country for Old Men (adapted into a sensational 2007 film by Joel and Ethan Coen).
But there’s nobody to like in The Counselor; indeed, it’s difficult to even understand most of the characters who populate this deadly dull study of ill-advised acts and their horrible consequences. Everybody is morally compromised at best, or sociopathic, or indifferently brutal. Everybody except the token innocent, that is, who may as well be wearing a sign that reads “Sacrificial Lamb.”
Mind you, a roster of degenerates isn’t necessarily bad in and of itself; Quentin Tarantino has a way of extracting wonderfully dark entertainment from the vicious swine who inhabit, say, Pulp Fiction or Inglourious Basterds. But that’s precisely the point: Tarantino characters are engaging for the way they revel in their bad behavior, whereas the increasingly tiresome players in this drama give new meaning to the word “boring.”