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'The Counselor' falls short of performances by major stars

Nov. 01, 2013 @ 03:10 PM

The new Ridley Scott ("Blade Runner," "Gladiator," "G.I. Jane") thriller could be called "No Country for Old Men 2." Written by Cormac McCarthy (who also penned the novel that became the 2007 hit, starring Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin and Tommy Lee Jones), "The Counselor" falls way short of giving us solid performances by major stars.

This really puzzles me, because Scott's direction usually means awesome performance by all of the "A List" employees. I don't know what happened here, though.

The always excellent Brad Pitt ("World War Z," the "Ocean's Eleven films, "Snatch") is a mere shadow of his usual onscreen self, as he plays a character very similar to Woody Harrelson's role in "No Country..." It's almost as though he plays his stud character from "Thelma & Louise," all grown up.

Maybe, he's ticked because he never got the role as the counselor.

Other similarities to the first film include an attempt to show a really cool way to kill people, as was demonstrated in the first movie, with the air pressure device used by the Javier Bardem psycho.

In "The Counselor," Scott comes forth with updated murder scenes involving classic piano wire assassinations. Both attempts with the wire are lame and fatally (pun intended) flawed.

In the first, a piano wire is strung across a lonely highway, awaiting the neck of an approaching motorcyclist. Never mind that the wire is strung at about midafternoon (according to the position of the sunlight) and the actual death scene takes place at dusk (making the sparks for the wreck more visible and the CGI decapitation easier to pull off).

So, we are expected to believe that this highway had zero traffic for several hours, while we wait for the unfortunate biker to arrive?

The piano wire garrote scene shows a mechanical version that is placed on the victim in public, in a matter of micro-seconds, where it mechanically constricts to the point of decapitation in minutes, even though a fairly muscular victim gets his hands under the wire?

There is no thread spool-sized spring that is that strong, it ain't gonna happen.

Another acting faux pas is the producer's banking on Bardem's return, as being a box office draw. In the first movie, his creepy psycho character was original and unforeseen, while here, he appears as a coked out Raul Julia imitation, who is shown as way too weak to be as powerful as he is meant to be.

Although Michael Fassbender ("Band of Brothers," "Prometheus," "X-Men: First Class") is at the top of his popularity, in his starring role, here, he is just too darn "vanilla." He's basically a wallflower, melting into the scenery. He does look like a successful lawyer type, good looking and smooth, but this role (and I haven't read the book, so I could be wrong) requires someone who looks more like a risk taker, an adventurer.

As far as eye candy, Penelope Cruz ("Sahara," "Blow," "Vanilla Sky") spices it up, and appears "hot babe background" ready, and performs better here, as she is away from the shiny starlight of opposites like Matthew McConaughey, Johnny Depp and Tom Cruise.

Another beauty, Cameron Diaz ("The Mask," "Something About Mary," "Any Given Sunday," arrives on scene as the Cruella De Vil puppeteer, manipulating the players with her "come hither" demeanor.

She is perfect for this part, but can occasionally be seen smirking at her own over-the-top performance.

As far as second tier players, there are none. Scott has a third tier of actors portraying "Barmaid, Truck Driver, Highway Patrolman, etc.," but basically leaves the movie in the hands of his five stars.

And the stars (with the exception of Diaz) fail to shine.

"The Counselor" is about as dry and boring as most lawyers are perceived to be...

(Disclaimer: This is an opinion piece, not meant to besmirch the character or appeal of any individual barrister...)

Billy Summers is a freelance photographer who also reviews films for the Putnam Herald. He can be reached at summers855@yahoo.com.

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