When the Coen Brothers took home a bundle of awards for their 2007 adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men, including the Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay, the 1992 National Book Award winner found himself shot into a whole new realm of fame. By then, McCarthy was already on a professional hot streak: in April of 2007 Oprah had picked his latest novel, The Road, for her Book Club. Literature lovers had already known of McCarthy’s greatness, but now everybody knew, and everybody wanted to read him. You could hardly go anywhere without seeing somebody clutching a copy of the book the Coens had adapted, or the post-apocalyptic novel that Oprah loved so much (and would eventually be turned into a well-received 2009 film).
Between the awards, the critical acclaim, the book sales, and the general McCarthy fandom that has griped readers, you knew Hollywood would come knocking on the 80-year-old author’s door again, and directors who commanded bigger budgets would begin to know his name. Ridley Scott, one such director who has managed to retain an eye for style and story that’s increasingly rare among studio moneymakers, is the latest to try and conjure up magic using McCarthy’s words — and he has the honor of directing the first film to feature an original screenplay written by the author. With McCarthy, Scott, a budget of $25 million, and such big-name stars Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, Penélope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, and No Country for Old Men‘s Javier Bardem, The Counselor looks great on paper.
Sadly, Bardem’s excellent performance (and his always-impressive hair) is the only thing that makes The Counselor worth seeing. A tale of where greed takes you when you get in over your head in and around Juarez, Mexico, the film just feels thin and clumsy — almost like Scott was so impressed that McCarthy wrote the screenplay that he didn’t feel compelled to do much directing, and expected the script’s dialogue and violent passages would do all the work for him.
But it doesn’t. Scott doesn’t make us feel anything for good-looking Fassbender’s Counselor, save for the acknowledgment that he’s in love with Cruz’s character (who we mostly feel an attachment to because, well, nobody wants anything bad to happen to Penélope Cruz). Brad Pitt plays your typical Brad Pitt character, basically Fight Club’s Tyler Durden without the rules of Fight Club. And then there’s Cameron Diaz, who, like Scott, seems really impressed to be working on a film written by Cormac McCarthy — so much so, that she really gets into the dialogue, to the point where her overacting sometimes manages to distract from the overall slapdash feel of this expensive, disappointing film written by one of America’s greatest novelists.