Review: The Counselor (18) ***

Audiences may require counselling sessions after two hours of twisted desire and treachery in the company of Ridley Scott’s erotically charged thriller.

Michael Fassbender and Javier Bardem in The Counsellor
Michael Fassbender and Javier Bardem in The Counsellor

In the film’s most memorable scene – not necessarily for the right reasons – Cameron Diaz’s tattooed vixen removes her underwear, mounts the bonnet of her boyfriend’s convertible and energetically performs a gymnastic feat across the windscreen that would surely be better served by a sponge or chamois leather.

“You see a thing like that, it changes you,” whimpers the boyfriend. We wholeheartedly agree – we will never see Diaz the same way again.

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Her all-guns-blazing portrayal is accompanied by terrific performances from Michael Fassbender and Penelope Cruz. All three are badly let down though by Cormac McCarthy’s overly complicated and wordy script, which isn’t remotely interested in the protagonists’ emotional turmoil, just their suffering. It’s a far cry from the nuances of the Coen brothers’ Oscar-winning adaptation of McCarthy’s No Country For Old Men, which elegantly offset his penchant for graphic violence with macabre humour and rich characterisation.

Fassbender plays a nameless counsellor, whose girlfriend Laura (Cruz) tearfully accepts his marriage proposal. “I intend to love you until I die,” he gushes.

That may be sooner than Laura thinks because the Counselor has invested his fortune in a drug trafficking operation across the Texas-Mexico border. Inevitably, the deal goes bad and the Counselor is marked for death along with two associates from the criminal underworld: floral-shirted playboy Reiner (Javier Bardem) and swaggering cowboy Westray (Brad Pitt).

“It’s not that you’re going down, Counsellor... it’s what you’re taking down with you,” Westray remarks sagely, before he boards a plane bound for London.

Meanwhile, Reiner is distracted by his gold-toothed girlfriend Malkina (Diaz), who owns two pet cheetahs.

“When the axe comes through the door, I’ll already be gone,” she purrs.

The Counselor looks glorious courtesy of Scott’s impeccable visuals, but all of that style means nothing when we can’t forge an emotional bond to the characters as they wallow through the mire.