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Film review: ‘The Counselor’ is a completely disjointed mess

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Thanks to a cast that includes Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender, at least The Counselor is good to look at. But that’s about it.

Two stars

The Counselor Michael Fassbender, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt. Directed by Ridley Scott. Rated R. Opens Friday.

The first half of The Counselor consists almost entirely of disjointed, inscrutable scenes that appear to have little or no connection to one another, often featuring characters who are seen once and then never again. Eventually it becomes clear that the title character (Michael Fassbender), who’s never given a name, has gotten himself into some sort of shady deal, although the nature of that deal isn’t immediately apparent, either.

After a particularly nasty violent act finally kicks the plot into motion in the movie’s second half, the individual scenes and lines of dialogue are no less opaque, but at least eventually you can mostly work out what’s going on. Whether you end up invested in the story is another matter, and even giving the deserved benefit of the doubt to director Ridley Scott and screenwriter Cormac McCarthy turns out to not be worth the trouble, as the movie ends just as frustratingly as it began, with an anticlimactic resolution to a plot that’s not nearly as complex as it first appears.

McCarthy is a renowned novelist whose books have been adapted into some great films (including The Road and No Country for Old Men), but The Counselor is his first screenplay, and there seems to be some important connective tissue missing that would come in the process of adapting a novel to the screen. The result is a movie that’s almost 100 percent vague, pseudo-profound dialogue and virtually no exposition or character development. That’s a serious problem in what turns out to be such a plot-driven film, whose final third hinges primarily on connecting the dots among the various characters and their actions.

Maybe in the hands of another director, McCarthy’s obtuse screenplay could have come alive, but Scott, however talented he is at helming big studio productions, is not the guy for the job, and he brings no flavor or style to the proceedings, merely presenting McCarthy’s mannered words in a flat, basic manner. His cast is full of big names, including Fassbender, Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, Brad Pitt and Cameron Diaz, but their performances are lost beneath the obscure motivations. Diaz in particular has trouble pulling off her role as a cold-blooded criminal mastermind, although she does stand out in one especially bizarre scene of fetishistic sex. Like just about every other scene in the movie, it has nothing much to do with anything, no matter how meaningful it makes itself out to be.

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