The Counselor …needs some advice

I almost missed this film, it seemed to slip in and out of town without ado despite Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender is leads. But that’s not why I went, nor was it because Ridley Scott directed it.
It was because Cormac McCarthy wrote the script.
There were premonitions of trouble. A fragment of the script appeared in The New Yorker and I couldn’t finish it. It was not a conventional script but a series of paragraphs describing the actions of people who had no distinct personalities and fairly inscrutable actions (in the film they are indeed minor characters).
That’s wasn’t the film’s problem. It is visually memorable and Fassbender is superb as the hero who chooses crime (a big drug deal) to head for easy street. The problem is the plot is extremely unsatisfying, with a satanic deus ex machine at every turn to make sure goes things go as bad as possible for The Counselor (Fassbender). I had thought, anyone who can open a chapter with this: “Now come days of begging, days of theft. Days of riding where there rode no soul save he,” (Blood Meridian) has to have a great screenplay in them. Not yet, I’d say.
McCarthy’s fiction invokes worlds dominated by evil, not just evil men and evil doings but characters of such epic proportion that they exceed the limits of realist plausibility. No Country for Old Men has the killer who can’t be stopped; Blood Meridian has the Judge whose powers of vengeance know no bounds; Children of God has a pyschopathic killer who survives for decades where most would perish. And The Counsellor has Malkina, with a stress on mal (Cameron Diaz), the dark angel who is able to outsmart and sabotage everthing the other characters do even though there seems no possible way she could have the where-with-all to do so.
The problem this creates is that these stories operate on two levels: one realist, one allegorical, one of plausible characters, one of implausible forces. Malkina’s powers have no credible base; she is simply capable of outwitting, destroying and conquering all. The Cohen brothers managed to tame this epic figure with humor and a wink at Bardem’s exaggerated qualities, but Scott tries to play it straight and make Malkina just part of the gang when she is anything but. That leads to a very ragged plot with enormous holes all through it.
I wish I could say this is a masterpiece. I can’t. I’d say it’s worth seeing for the stylistics and to learn from flaws and failures about what not to do, but I will be hoping for better luck on the next McCarthy screenplay.

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