Fassbender plays the titular laywer who becomes embroiled in a drug trafficking plan in order to make big bucks. As expected, things go belly-up leaving Counsellor solely in the frame and he and his fiancée (Penelope Cruz) at the mercy of a vicious kingpin – or should that be queenpin?
In one scene Cameron Diaz’s Malkina has sex with a car. Not only is it silly, it adds nothing to the story and had the audience in stitches, probably unintentionally.
That pretty much sums up the rest of the film; it tries hard to be profound but in the end rings hollow. You would think with such an impressive cast that the finished product would be anything but. Its destructive and grim tone just about save it: a happy ending would have made things even more unbearable.
Scott has achieved an atmospheric film; everything is luxurious and beautiful but there is a simmering sense of danger underneath it all. Leopards with jewelled collars skulk around in a fashion as predatory as Malkina in her vertiginous heels and dramatic eye shadow; Brad Pitt’s Westray is handsome and stylish but wary and always looking for the nearest exit.
The last third is a bloodbath with bodies littering the ground like road kill and it’s only then that The Counselor gets interesting. Until then we are swamped with flowery dialogue courtesy of McCarthy, pointless phone sex and a couple of shootouts to quicken the pace.
The characters are bold (bar Cruz’s Laura – soft in more ways than one), lavishly dressed and ultimately unlikeable. Given the world Counselor finds himself in, perhaps feeling empathy for those on screen isn’t necessary, but the film is hard-going as a result.
Javier Bardem is suitably loopy as the mad-shirted Reiner, while Fassbender is brilliant throughout, as expected from one of the best actors out there right now. As mentioned before Diaz is fascinating to watch, and not just because of her frisson with a vehicle but because Malkina is arguably her most interesting character to date.
Released in UK cinemas on Friday 15 November 2013.