Take a cursory glance at the poster for “The Counselor” and you’ll see the faces of some of Hollywood’s biggest stars. But some audiences this weekend will find out that they should have been looking at the fine print. That’s because the drug thriller was written by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Cormac McCarthy (“The Road,” “No Country for Old Men”), a writer not known for likeable characters or traditional story payoffs.
The characters in “The Counselor,” led by Michael Fassbender as a lawyer looking to cash in on a onetime drug deal, speak in philosophical soliloquies about the nature of sex, death and greed, and that’s just one example of how the film, directed by Ridley Scott, is built to upend expectations.
And the reviews are reflecting the divisive nature of the author’s work, ranging from high praise to several write-ups calling it an outright disaster. So to give you a better idea of what to expect from “The Counselor,” we’ve rounded up a short spectrum of reactions from the critics.
The Script Is Essential
“Among other things, Cormac McCarthy’s work is about coming to terms with the existence of evil in the world — cold, pitiless, unspeakably cruel, and not open to negotiation. Moviegoers got a sharp sense of it from Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh in ‘No Country for Old Men,’ the Coen brothers’ adaptation of McCarthy’s novel, and it’s more present still in ‘The Counselor,’ a drug thriller that carries McCarthy’s philosophy like a mule across the border. McCarthy devised a plot about a lawyer turned onetime trafficker who’s besieged by setbacks, and director Ridley Scott provided a handful of tense setpieces, including two that employ razor wire in much the same way Chigurh favored a captive bolt pistol. But it’s striking how little McCarthy’s script — and this is, ultimately, Un Film De Cormac McCarthy — seems invested in delivering conventional genre payoffs. This type of story has been told countless times; the film is more interested in what it means.” — Scott Tobias, The Dissolve
The Script Is Terrible
“If the film’s posse of ethically shady villains seems right out of a bad Cormac McCarthy novel, that’s because it more or less is. ‘The Counselor’ is the celebrated bard of the borderland’s first feature-film screenplay. And as Fassbender’s drug deal goes sour, putting his fiancée (Penélope Cruz) in harm’s way, he’s forced to listen to a lot of poorly sketched characters wander on screen and deliver stilted metaphorical speeches about greed and the evil that men do. All of this may have seemed fine and dandy on the page. But I suspect that McCarthy is about to find out the hard way that writing novels and writing screenplays are two very different things. In ‘No Country for Old Men,’ the Coen brothers wisely stripped the author’s doomed tough-guy dialogue and injected it with a stiff dose of harrowing naturalism. But operating on his own here, McCarthy’s unchecked macho arias leave you sitting there slack-jawed, wondering if he has any idea how people talk in real life.” — Chris Nashawaty, Entertainment Weekly
It’s A Little More Complicated Than That
“Can a movie be both a catastrophe and strangely compelling — maybe even, gasp, good — at the same time? It seems ‘The Counselor’ is determined to find out. On the surface, this new Ridley Scott thriller, written by ‘No Country for Old Men’ novelist Cormac McCarthy, is a narrative wipeout: a supposedly twisty-turny crime drama set along the border that isn’t all that twisty or turny but is deeply convoluted, and at times howlingly insane. But it knows it makes no sense. In fact, it rubs our faces in it.” — Bilge Ebiri, Vulture
Check out everything we’ve got on “The Counselor.”