‘The Counselor’ bafflingly bad

Movie: The Counselor; Director: Ridley Scott; Studio: Fox Films; Rating: R; My finding: 2 out of 5 stars.

To get to the quick of it, “The Counselor” is a very bad movie.

It’s made all the worse by the undeniable fact that the various parts of the film are often very good and on paper it should be a true film event. But it is much, much less than the sum of those parts.

The film – every bit deserving of its “R” rating with its depravity, sex, violence, decapitation and sleaze – employs some of the most recognizable actors working today, including leading man and title character Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem and Cameron Diaz. But that’s not all. It’s also directed by Ridley Scott, who made his mark with 1979’s “Alien,” 1982’s “Blade Runner,” 2000’s “Gladiator” and numerous other classic films to be one of the leading directors still working. Even 2012’s “Prometheus,” which he also worked with Fassbender on, is underappreciated.

But the most unnerving fact that led to this disappointment may be the fact that Cormac McCarthy wrote it. If his Pulitzer Prize for 2007’s “The Road,” a National Book Award for 1992’s “All the Pretty Horses,” and a few fellowship appointments don’t make for an impressive resume in themselves, then just remember that the Coen Brothers’ classic “No Country for Old Men” was sourced from McCarthy’s novel of the same name.

And this marks McCarthy’s first stab at an original screenplay.

He doesn’t understand the medium. Yet. But if the terrible box office has anything to say about it, the 80-year-old may not get to work an original screenplay again.

There really is no story. You can infer basic plot elements, but in the end it seems as though every character in the film is just somehow related to international drug trade.

The Counselor, as Fassbender’s defense attorney character is referred to throughout the movie, has fallen in love with a woman (Cruz) and buys her a ridiculously huge 3.9 karat diamond to ask for her hand in marriage. Despite the size of the diamond, the proposal isn’t much to boast about and seems somewhat haphazardly thrown together. That’s the first sign that suspenseful scenes will fall flat on their face throughout the film.

Anyway, to support his diamond buying activities and whatever else type of lifestyle he may want to share with her, the Counselor gets roped into helping to smuggle diamonds from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, up to Chicago to bring in a hefty sum.

His part in this operation is absolutely never known nor talked about but apparently he’s some kind of central figure. Maybe he’s cooking some legal books. Who knows? As I said, all you can do is guess.

Renier (Bardem) is the Counselor’s first and main point of contact within the drug (heroin? cocaine?) trafficking operation. He lives in high style with two cheetahs for pets and dates Malkina (Diaz). There is no clear idea of how he fits into the world, either, but if he can spend his afternoons watching his cheetahs chase down jackrabbits in the high deserts while making martinis from a minibar located in the back of a Ferrari, then I think it’s safe to say he’s a big player.

Pitt, though, is the most ridiculously confusing character of all.

We know at least one thing he does, as opposed to the other operatives in this drug deal. He explains to the Counselor how much money the deal makes, what the markup is and where the final shipping destination is. You’ll have to watch closely for this small part of plot exposition, it’s hidden around the “that’s the price in Dallas” and “don’t write this down” in the murky, overbearing dialogue.

French New Wave cinema of the 1960s ushered in a beautiful new storytelling devices in long-winded, seemingly incongruent conversation that adds atmosphere and character development while people ferry about from A to B. But this film takes the decidedly less satisfying route of words for the sake of words alone. You’ll see the likes of this in director Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life” and “The Thin Red Line.” In my personal estimation, McCarthy’s writing here does even worse disservice to narrative progress than Malick’s voiceovers.

But they attempt the same annoying thing.

Both types of melodramatic dialogue serve to show a guilty conscience or misgivings toward something bad or harmful in life that the characters feel responsible for. But both also commit the sin of failing to show the negative actions people talk about.

Here the pretentious dialogue waxes philosophically about what makes the underworld tick and what the appeal is.

Next time, McCarthy, show us a bit more of that underworld, develop some characters, and then thrust them into situations where each outcome isn’t painfully obvious.

The two saving graces of the film may be the part when Bardem talks about a strange bit of erotica involving an excellent car and something “too gynecological,” and also an amazingly shrewd assassination device.

(Flint McColgan is a staff writer for The Minot Daily News. His movie reviews appear in Thursday’s Arts &?Entertainment section.)