Review – The Counsellor

Poster for 2013 thriller The Counsellor

Genre: Thriller
Certificate: 18
UK Release Date: 15th November 2013
Runtime: 117 minutes
Director: Ridley Scott
Writer: Cormac McCarthy
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, Brad Pitt
Synopsis: A lawyer becomes embroiled in the dark criminal underworld when he takes part in a drug deal that goes horribly wrong.



On paper, The Counsellor sounded like the perfect recipe for a film. A first original screenplay from novelist Cormac McCarthy, directed by Ridley Scott and starring a huge cast of some of the best people working in Hollywood. But unfortunately, this is a film that is far less than the sum of its parts.

The unnamed title character (Michael Fassbender) is a lawyer who gets himself involved in a shady drug deal with Reiner (Javier Bardem) and Westray (Brad Pitt). When things start to wrong, the Counsellor’s fiancée Laura (Penelope Cruz) and Reiner’s lover Malkina (Cameron Diaz) take a pivotal role as horrific events begin to unfold.

The Counsellor was doomed from the start. In fact, The Counsellor was doomed before Cormac McCarthy had even put pen to paper. McCarthy is one of the greatest novelists alive today and, as a result, there is a perception that he can do no wrong. As such, no-0ne had the courage to go up to him and say “hey Cormac, is this not a little wordy?”

Mark Kermode pretty much hit the nail on the head regarding the dialogue in his review. (skip to 2:27)


More than any other film this year, The Counsellor is entirely let down by a script that just doesn’t work. Ridley Scott’s direction is workmanlike, but solid, and the actors are giving the material everything they can, but McCarthy’s pretentious, pseudo-philosophical guff is constantly in their way.

There are flashes of brilliance when Fassbender gets the chance to sparkle with emotion and the seriously gruesome scenes of violence are handled effectively. Unfortunately, the most brutal and exciting of these sequences is heavily signposted with a textbook bit of Chekhov’s Gun early on in the movie, rendering it more of an “oh, of course” than the intense moment of shock that it should have been.

This is a problem throughout The Counsellor. Either the deliberate ambiguity of the plot makes it impossible to follow, or the obvious signposting makes it depressingly predictable. Everything either makes no sense or is blindingly obvious, so there’s never any real surprise in the film.

And also, Cameron Diaz has sex, to completion, with the windscreen of a sports car whilst Javier Bardem watches. That’s not a joke.

I wish it was.

Pop or Poop?

Rating: Poop!

The Counsellor has performed an almost impossible feat, in that it has taken a glittering team of creatives and guided them into producing a pathetic pile of pretentious piddle.

The cast are wasted by the need to spout piss-poor dialogue in the midst of a baffling narrative punctuated by occasional bursts of ludicrously explicit sex and violence.

Someone needs to tell Cormac McCarthy he’s fallible. And fast.

Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.

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