Niagara Gazette

Night & Day

October 22, 2013

CALLERI: 'The Counselor' ambles along a familiar trail

Niagara Gazette — For the new drug cartel movie, “The Counselor,” screenwriter Cormac McCarthy has come up with an innovative way to kill someone.

Perhaps the cruel method has been used before in one of those bottom-of-the-barrel pictures that go straight to DVD, and about which I’m unaware, but it’s certainly the first time I’ve seen it in a big-budget, mainstream studio production.

Without being overly graphic, it involves an unbreakable wire, a motor, and the human body. Let’s leave it at that. Another method used by a killer on an empty highway near the beginning of the film is a different twisted means of dispatching one’s enemy. As the motorized garrote was being utilized, once the surprise jolt of the moment hit me, I literally had to avert my eyes. It’s that grotesque.

I’m offering a warning not only because the killing is carried out in an excessive manner, but also because its use certifies one of the problems with the movie. The entire storyline seems to exist solely for the purpose of making sure this particularly grisly lethal weapon is highlighted.

“The Counselor,” which takes place along the United States-Mexico border, is loaded with generic drug cartel material. Even the dirt and dust of the arid locales (southwest Texas here) seem trucked in from much better films, including, and especially, Steven Soderbergh’s great “Traffic.” The fast cars and duplicitous behavior among criminals is right out of Sam Peckinpah’s engaging version of “The Getaway,” including the use of El Paso as a setting, and the wearing of large cowboy hats, one of which is worn by Brad Pitt.

Michael Fassbender plays a lawyer (the counselor of the title), who is smart enough to know not to get involved with drug dealers. But greed and his happy new marriage to Penelope Cruz cloud his mind, so he participates in a trafficking escapade with Javier Bardem’s rich facilitator, whose lover is Cameron Diaz. Pitt is a key part of the mismatched equation; a mysterious money man who can disappear at will. He says that if need be, he can change his spots and move to a monastery and become a monk.

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