Drug cartels and decapitations have never been so sexy. Although his stunning A-list cast definitely helps, Ridley Scott infuses The Counselor with a ubiquitous sex appeal that seeps through every meticulous detail of the film. It’s difficult to imagine that such an attractive movie could successfully carry themes of grief and death, but Scott’s silver platter proves to be a successful vehicle for the ugliest of human experiences.
Beautiful people, shiny cars, lavish houses, and a steamy wardrobe highlight this film’s obsession with aesthetics, but Scott’s fixation on attractiveness extends beyond the eye candy. The film is Breaking Bad-clean. Every bullet hole and pair of red-tinted sunglasses serve a greater purpose, and every shot displays these intentional details charmingly, with beautifully lit, expertly framed precision.
Malkina (Cameron Diaz), the film’s femme fatale, epitomizes the intersection of cruelty and grace. Diaz, as always, plays evil well in her role as the predatory vixen, complete with two majestic pet leopards and a matching leopard print tattoo wrapping from her shoulder to her frequently exposed lower back.
This smooth-talking, enigmatic mercenary is a character founded in sex appeal. She entrances both her flashy cartel-puppet lover, Reiner (Javier Bardem), an otherwise brazen criminal, and the audience as she throws the morally obtuse lives of everyone around her into chaos.
Malkina is not the only character that provocatively grasps the audience’s attention. The first scene of the movie, a pseudo-pornographic bedroom encounter between Michael Fassbender, the mononymous Counselor, and his fiancé, Laura (Penélope Cruz), establishes the viscerally sexual relationship between the two. This relationship drives the film, as it motivates Fassbender to venture into the scary world of a drug cartel for his love.
As the bankrupt Counselor enters into a criminal business endeavor to finance his life with Laura, he quickly learns how dirty his seemingly pristine world is. The all-powerful cartel controls his life and shapes his demise as Malkina’s plan comes to fruition. A former client, Westray (Brad Pitt), advises Fassbender as he sets up his business deal, but is quick to take off when things go wrong, leaving Fassbender with nothing but his love for Laura to keep him going.
Though in line with the movie’s vision, Scott is too quick to equate lust and love in the Counselor’s relationship with his fiancé. Fassbender’s phenomenal, emotion-filled performance towards the end of the film attempts to redeem this shallowness, but from the opening scene to graphic phone sex, it is hard to see anything deeper between the two characters. Regardless, the strength of this relationship carries the film’s painful plot and message through the otherwise gleaming world.
At times the attempted philosophical contemplation gets a little too heavy handed. When the going gets tough, we find Fassbender receiving extended nihilistic monologues from multiple random Mexican men, all of whom deliver bookish lines, killing the conversational flow and removing the message from a natural, relatable domain.
While The Counselor may be flawed, the world that Scott creates is not. In his carefully cultivated world, even death is made sexy, with only slightly dialed back Tarantino-esque fountains of blood and clean decapitations. If nothing else, this film is easy on the eyes and a beautiful respite from the clumsiness and inelegance of so many of its fellow crime-thrillers. And really, how often do you get to see Cameron Diaz have sex with a Ferrari?