The Counselor Will Drain Your Faith in Humanity

10/24/2013 4:00 PM |

The Counselor
Directed by Ridley Scott

Cynical is too weak a word to describe the worldview that infuses this story of a high-level drug deal gone awry. So is bleak. The Counselor is set in a world that’s pitiless, unsparingly mean and literally hopeless; it’s a Wild West drama played out on the Mexican border in chicer outfits and cars—and with less regard for human life, let alone basic human decency. Michael Fassbender plays the title character, a charming southwestern lawyer madly in love with and newly engaged to Penelope Cruz; for the first time, he buys into a drug deal (with Javier Bardem and Brad Pitt), hoping to make easy money to finance his newfound love. Instead, it goes wrong, revealing through the fallout the savagery at the heart of pure capitalism. Well, savagery is too weak a word; the violence unleashed by the drug cartels, whose only motivation is money, forces you to reconsider your understanding of brutality and its parameters. You couldn’t even call it primitive or animalistic: Bardem and his wicked girlfriend Cameron Diaz have two pet cheetahs whose docility is in marked contrast to the much-worse behavior of the humans who keep and surround them.

I don’t remember the last time a movie left me so drained of faith in humanity. Here’s a milieu in which a small act of generosity can put you on the road to perdition, where life has no value—none!; where men pay to have sex with the freshly decapitated corpses of young women, where doing business means routine beheadings, and being in love marks you for death or worse—the deaths of everyone else, being robbed of everything that matters. Director Ridley Scott, curiously fresh off the ponderous space opera Prometheus, uses musical cues liberally at the ends of scenes to stave off bros’ potential boredom at what happens between beheadings: scriptwriter Cormac McCarthy’s many thoughtful highfalutin asides, both philosophical and emotional. (Several of the jokes and Big Ideas in his published screenplay have been cut.) But it’s still devastating to behold the film’s infinite cruelties, especially a scene set at a rally in Juarez in which families raise posters of the missing, the Mexican Drug War’s desaparecidos, underscoring that what you’re watching isn’t just the tragedy of a few border-town gringos but that of a whole society. So, maybe the movie’s utter despondency is the only proper emotional approach. Which, ah, fuck.

Opens October 25