Let's play a little game. I'm going to give you some actual lines of dialogue from this movie and I want you to guess who said them: the lawyer, the drug smuggler, the drug smuggler's trophy wife, a diamond dealer, or the bartender who just woke up a passed out customer so he could close up the bar:
- "All my family is dead. I am the one who has no meaning."
- "For those with the understanding that they are living the last days of the world death acquires a different meaning. The extinction of all reality is a content no resignation can encompass... And now I have to go. If I have enough time I think I'll take a nap."
- "I never knew my parents. They were thrown out of a helicopter into the Atlantic ocean when I was three."
- "It's like being in love with easefull death."
- "Actions create consequences, which produce new worlds, and they're all different. Where the bodies are buried in the desert, that is a certain world. Where the bodies are simply left to be found, that is another. And all of these worlds, they must have always been there, must they not?"
- "To miss something is to want it back. " [another character asks "Isn't that a bit cold?"] "Truth has no temperature."
- "However unattainable - to aspire to the stone's endless destiny, isn't that the meaning of adornment?"
- "Women can sniff out the moral dilemma, the paradox. Maybe it's just that lacking any moral sense themselves, they're fascinated by it in men."
If you want to know the correct answers, well, you're going to have to watch the movie; I didn't actually reprint all those quotes because I wanted to play a game. Instead, I wanted to point out what a goddamn terrible writer Cormac McCarthy is. McCarthy is mostly known for his novels, but he wrote the Counselor's screenplay, and it suffers from all of his crippling weaknesses. It's repetitive (every character is obsessed with death, as you can tell), it's tone deaf (all of those quotes are coming from different characters, but they all sound the same), and worse of all, it's obscurity pretending to be profundity. I suppose someone could argue that those lines have some deep innate meaning that I'm missing, but to me they sound like one of the more prone-to-pontificating Batman incarnations started reading Sartre.
(For the record, it was the bartender that said "All my family is dead. I am the one who has no meaning." I'm sure a lot of bar staff have had the same thought near closing time, but I doubt that they expressed it quite so existentially. Especially when they still have to lock up.)
There is a serious disconnect between this movie's form and it's functions. Go back and re-read that roll call of characters: this is a movie about a lawyer who buys his way into a drug deal and then has to pay the piper after the deal goes south. So if it's about business dealings with the Cartels, why does every character talk like they were in Rosencranz and Guildenstern are Dead? I understand that a story doesn't automatically have to be pulpy just because it's about the drug trade, but there does need to be some balance between the plot and the tone, because it doesn't make any sense for these characters - most of whom are shallow greedy monsters - to speak exclusively in inscrutable koans. I don't know much about drug running, but I know enough to know that the Cartel's HR departments probably don't favor philosophers over monosyllabic gang bangers.
That said, if you can get over the script - which is a big if - then there is some fun to be had. The actors all appear to be in different movies, and that creates a trainwreck feeling that can be legitimately funny. Michael Fassbender (who plays the titular Counselor) commits with as much gravity as he can muster, while Javier Bardem (who plays the Counselor's business partner, a well connected sleazeball named Reiner), gives an utterly gonzo performance. The actors who are there to perform specific actions (like, say, the two men who have to behead their targets) go about their business with minimal fuss, but Cameron Diaz humps a car's windshield to completion with as much flair as she can muster. (It turns out Cameron Diaz can muster up a lot of flair.) And Brad Pitt is doing... Well, I can't quite figure it out, but he's here, too. The combined effect of the unlikely dialogue and the seemingly unconnected performances end up creating a movie which is not... good, but it is... singular.
The first time I watched this movie, I was tolerating it until that bartender showed up and broke my brain. Watching it a second time, I'm a lot more ambivalent. I will probably never think that lines like "We announce to the darkness that we will not be diminished by the brevity of our lives, that we will not thereby be made less" are actually compelling bits of dialogue. But at the same time, it's kind of fun watching the different actors try to spit out those unwieldy words, because you get to try to guess who knew that the emperor didn't have an clothes on and who believed in the gibberish.
So who knows? If I ever watch The Counselor again I might somehow work my way up to enjoying it. Or maybe I will end up hating it even more, because I will finally understand what an "easefull death" is and that will be a deep bummer. Either way, I can say this for sure: I will never hear a bartender say "I am the one whose life has no meaning" and say to myself "yup, your story checks out."
The Counselor on IMDB