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Originally published October 24, 2013 at 12:09 AM | Page modified October 24, 2013 at 10:56 AM

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‘The Counselor’: Great cast, middling movie

A review of the stylish but unfulfilling Ridley Scott film “The Counselor.” Michael Fassbender, Penélope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Cameron Diaz and Brad Pitt star.




Seattle Times movie critic

Movie Review 2.5 stars

‘The Counselor,’ with Michael Fassbender, Penélope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt. Directed by Ridley Scott, from a screenplay by Cormac McCarthy. 117 minutes. Rated R for graphic violence, some grisly images, strong sexual content and language. Several theaters.

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If looks could kill, “The Counselor” would carry a warning label. Shot with a sun-baked yet cool elegance, it features one of the year’s most handsome ensemble casts, all in fine form. Michael Fassbender plays the nameless title character; Penélope Cruz his sweetly exquisite fiancée; Javier Bardem, hair looking as if it’s attempting a rapid escape from his head, a shady nightclub owner; Cameron Diaz, complete with cheetah tattoos, his scarily amoral girlfriend; Brad Pitt, in a white cowboy hat that may or may not be ironic, is the middleman through whom the Counselor, quite unwisely, gets involved in a potentially lucrative drug deal.

All of this, playing out against a backdrop of ever-shifting locations (the film is set mostly along the Texas-Mexico border but, intriguingly, was shot entirely in England and Spain), should have made for riveting viewing, particularly with the reliable Ridley Scott directing and Cormac McCarthy writing the original screenplay. But “The Counselor,” disappointingly, plays like a long series of striking yet enigmatic scenes, without enough story to hold them together. (As with many movies, you wonder what’s been cut away; unlike many, you can find out, as McCarthy’s screenplay has been released as a paperback. Read it as a fascinating exercise in movie editing; much of the story’s connective tissue existed on the page but was stripped away.)

What remain are some wonderfully vivid moments: Diaz, entering a Catholic church, dipping her fingers into the holy-water font and smelling them, as if it might be perfume; Cruz, in a red dress that’s one of the film’s few colors; a sickeningly creative method of beheading; a troubled Fassbender’s answer to a waitress’ query of what he wants to drink (“Hemlock.”); a pair of elegantly collared cheetahs, with easily enough presence to headline their own movie. You wait for “The Counselor” to get started and finally realize it never will — but you can, at least, enjoy the pictures.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com



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