Sometimes critical opinion on a movie is so divisive that the only thing to do is let the reviews fight it out in Criticwire’s Cage Match. Two reviews enter, one review leaves.
The film: The Counselor, directed by Ridley Scott from Cormac McCarthy’s first original screenplay. Michael Fassbender plays a lawyer who gets caught up in a drug deal gone bad, with Javier Bardem, Cameron Diaz and Brad Pitt pulling him into the abyss.
Colette Bancroft, Tampa Bay Times:
Whispered words open The Counselor: “Are you awake?” And even though they are whispered most fetchingly, by Penelope Cruz from between the sheets, by the end of this sleekly savage film you may well feel as if you’re caught in a nightmare.
Connie Ogle, Miami Herald:
There are many signs that The Counselor is a ridiculous movie: the pseudo-intellectual philosophy spouted by various characters, including the leader of a Mexican drug cartel; Javier Bardem’s fright-wig hair; Cameron Diaz’s evil eyeliner, one of the primary identifying factors of her bad-girl character. But my favorites are the cheetahs.
Reiner is the polar opposite of Bardem’s terrifying Anton Chighurh in No Country — here, with an expensively zany wardrobe and a black-dyed Bart Simpson ‘do, he’s motor-mouthed, goofy, even clownish, but sinister nevertheless. Malkina not only keeps a brace of cheetahs as pets, she wears their spots tattooed across her long, sinewy back — she’s a fellow gorgeous, lethal predator.
The Counselor is more Wild Things than No Country for Old Men, with which it shares a border town setting. But at least Wild Things knew what it was. The Counselor treats its material seriously and seems to have no idea it’s a joke that can’t even muster up a bit of smarty-pants Tarantino cleverness or energy.
Some of The Counselor is mordantly witty, even laugh-out-loud funny; a scene in which Reiner recalls the time Malkina had sex with his Ferrari (you read that right — not in the Ferrari, with it) is hilariously raunchy.
She shocks Renier by having sex with his car while he sits stunned in the passenger seat. Renier’s description of the event, shown in flashback, is funny, but the sight of Diaz writhing on the windshield doesn’t help you share his horror. It just makes you feel sorry for Diaz and everybody else in this silly, affected, self-important movie.
The Counselor explodes with violence that is grisly, but not gratuitous: McCarthy has a point to make. Wars create monsters, and the drug war is no exception. From the cartel jefe and the dabbling dealer to the millions of consumers, those who believe they have no blood on their hands are wrong.
Who wins this round? Leave your vote in the comments.