Michael Fassbender as the Counselor
Penélope Cruz as Laura
Javier Bardem as Reiner
Cameron Diaz as Malkina
Brad Pitt as Westray
Rosie Pérez as Ruth
Richard Cabral as The Young Man
Dean Norris as The Buyer
Natalie Dormer as The Blonde
Édgar Ramírez as The Priest
Bruno Ganz as The Diamond Dealer
Rubén Blades as Jefe
John Leguizamo as The Coverall Man
Goran Višnjić as The Banker
Toby Kebbell as Tony
Emma Rigby as Tony's girl
Benedict Wong as Lee
Is the greatest detriment of the human condition the fact that we've allowed ourselves to forget that at our core we are just animals, leaving us easy prey to those who have remembered or re-awakened to their true nature? Or is it our greatest strength, giving us the ability enjoy the world around us and realize there is more to life than eating, sleeping and procreating? It's a question Cormac McCarthy has been wrestling with for nearly all of his storied literary career, and he wrestles with it some more in the unsettling and unsatisfying "The Counselor."
On the strength side you have the extravagance of people like nightclub owner Rainer (Javier Bardem and his hair), people who take things as they come without wanting or being able to read more into it. They see the world the way an admirer of a beautiful diamond (or the woman it's meant for) does, something to admire or to help forget that the world is not the way they wish it to be. A lot like "The Counselor" itself, which casts a high seen on its tawdry subject matter from director Ridley Scott and his regular crew of associates. Like most crime films, it reveals in the conundrum of the horrible world it describes and the innate sexiness with which it describes it. If sexy is quite the way to describe what goes on with Rainer, his girlfriend (Cameron Diaz) and their Ferrari California.
Malkina, like Rainer's drug cartel business partners, lives on the other side of the equation, a place where there is no time for sentimentality or beauty, only the never-ending drive to continue. A drive which most of them couldn't begin to articulate even if they had the urge to. It's the kind of dichotomy McCarthy lives for and he has filled "The Counselor" with his own brand of sparkling dialogue and oblique conversations that scrape away at the edges of meaning and leave you grasping for more. The result is frequently surprising, but also often and intentionally without payoff, which may or may not work for those unfamiliar with his particular brand of genius. The brevity of the screen is not always the best fit for his skills either—mercenaries and middlemen (Brad Pitt) appear out of thin air, release some wisdom into said air and wander off. "The Counselor" requires your attention to get anything from it.
Much more so in fact than the titular Counselor (Michael Fassbender) himself trapped between the two poles McCarthy has laid out, trying to walk a minefield of moral dilemma as he attempts to avoid being consumed by beauty or greed. Unfortunately, like the rest of "The Counselor," it tends to sound better than it actually is as McCarthy's philosophical drive overcomes his own narrative sense, resulting in a lack of focus. The Counselor, who should be, who seems to be, the center of our story is merely an observer of it - the fateful decisions he's made and the reason's he's made them are off in the past and at best only hinted, as is anything else which has to do with its real center.
The thing is, in all this philosophizing and frequently excellent dialogue, no one has been able to come up with a good idea on where it should go or the reality that a world filled with depraved people--while seductive and even attractive--is difficult to care for, making any potential answer the filmmakers might come up with basically moot. There's still a lot of good in there, but in the urge towards art and subtlety, a positive urge to be sure, they have made the same mistake their characters have - forgetting that you can always go too far.