Soulless 'Counselor' Is Terminally Bleak

The new movie The Counselor was written by acclaimed novelist Cormac McCarthy. Critic Kenneth Turan says he's better off sticking to writing books.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

OK. The writer Cormac McCarthy has won a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award. He has never written an original screenplay produced until now. That film, "The Counselor," opens this weekend. Kenneth Turan has our review.

KENNETH TURAN, BYLINE: "The Counselor" is as cold, precise and soulless as the diamonds that figure briefly in its plot. You could call it "Three Beheadings and No Funeral," but that wouldn't make the movie any better. This is the terminally bleak story of an attorney, played by Michael Fassbender, who wants to become part of a multi-million drug deal with a Mexican cartel. A cartel middleman, played by Brad Pitt, checks him out.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE COUNSELOR")

BRAD PITT: (as Westray) You seem unsettled.

MICHAEL FASSBENDER: (as Counselor) I'm all right.

PITT: (as Westray) If you're not in, you need to tell me.

FASSBENDER: (as Counselor) Why?

PITT: (as Westray) Because you don't know someone till you know what they want. I can't advise the Counselor.

FASSBENDER: (as Counselor) But you are advising me.

PITT: (as Westray) I just need you to be sure that you're locked in.

TURAN: On top of Pitt and Fassbender, the cast includes major players Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz and Javier Bardem, and the director, Ridley Scott, is equally high-powered. None of them seems to realize that the gem they are so carefully polishing is pure cubic zirconia. The problem is the screenplay.

The plot is so pre-determined there's little point in seeing it through to the end. Both the Counselor and his girlfriend, played by Cruz, are so fated to have the most awful things happen to them they might as well have helpless victims written on their foreheads. McCarthy's famously enigmatic dialogue works better on the page than on the screen. Hearing his lines spoken by actors makes the words sound hollow, stilted and theatrical, like when Cameron Diaz talks to boyfriend Javier Bardem.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE COUNSELOR")

CAMERON DIAZ: (as Malkina) I don't think I miss things. I think to miss something is to hope that it will come back. But it's not coming back.

JAVIER BARDEM: (as Reiner) You don't think that's a bit cold?

DIAZ: (as Malkina) I think truth has no temperature.

TURAN: While these people are trading inscrutable McCarthyisms, a septic tank truck filled with drugs is making its way to the U.S. from Mexico. This may not sound very exciting, but you'll find yourself longing for the truck because it keeps those toxic characters off the screen. Nothing human flows through "The Counselor's" veins, not even close.

GREENE: Kenneth Turan reviews movies for our program and also for the Los Angeles Times. We bring him to you here on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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