Review: The Counselor

Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender in Ridley Scott's The Counselor.
Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender in Ridley Scott’s The Counselor.

Thelma & Louise feels like a long time ago.
Rating: *

The Counselor is a blow to our senses. And our expectations. I certainly didn’t expect a shoddy two-hour motion picture from either Ridley Scott or screenwriter Cormac McCarthy.

Michael Fassbender plays the titular Counselor who gets in over his head, and indulges in a drug trade that involves a shady man called Reiner (Javier Bardem) even though another shady man named Westray (Brad Pitt) warns him not to. Phew!

This trade of course is defied by the brutal Mexican drug cartel, who have become a go-to nemesis in most crime films involving cocaine and gangs.

There seems to be a message in this film. Go down the bad path, and bad shit will happen to you.

Surely, there could have been an easier way of telling us that instead of making this incomprehensible mess. The Counselor, being a Ridley Scott film feels more like a Tony Scott film. There’s that slickness in editing and cinematography, that Ridley generally ignores, and Tony embraces. Sadly, the dialogue is nowhere close to either of their creations.

Screenwriter McCarthy has visited the wrong aisle in the library. Instead of taking dialogue that is as conventional as a Tarantino film, the monologues sound more like George Bernard Shaw or even Shakespeare. While explaining greed, one of the key characters, Malkina (Cameron Diaz in a nightmarish role) says:

“I suspect that we are ill-formed for the path we have chosen. Ill-formed and ill-prepared. We would like to draw a veil over all the blood and terror that have brought us to this place. It is our faintness of heart that would close our eyes to all of that, but in so doing it makes of it our destiny. But nothing is crueller than a coward, and the slaughter to come is probably beyond our imagining.”

Even when I was 100 minutes into the film, I thought Scott would pull away from the misery by adding one of two thrilling set pieces. None of which happens.


Review: Knight and Day

Tom and Cam rip through the cobbled streets of Seville.

Comedy or Bust

Knight and Day (PG-13)

Director: James Mangold

Starring: Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, Peter Saarsgard, Viola Davis and Paul Dano

Genre: Action Comedy

Rating: **

Desperate times call for desperate measures. James Mangold’s Knight and Day is such a film. The man who held accolades for directing the Johnny Cash biopic, Walk The Line, occurs biased on giving Tom Cruise, a larger-than-life image. I wonder what would have happened if Cruise had accepted his role in Salt. Would he have become a representation of Desperado or Vince, the cool and calculative assassin from Collateral? Knight and Day fulfills its promise. You wanted entertainment and you get it. Packaged as a Hollywood entertainer, Knight and Day does seem to win a little. But, the 130-minute running time and those know-me-well dialogues certainly aren’t needed. The setup to the first fight scene is lengthy. The two characters introduce themselves. Well, Roy Miller just gives his name while June Havens blabbers everything, right from her dad’s 1966 GTO to her personal life traits. Thankfully, Cameron Diaz makes June appear pleasant rather than irritating. The kid in the Oscar winning animated feature, Up, was such an irritating creature. It was because of him that Up would become the first Hollywood film where I walked out of the cinema hall.

At times, I felt Mangold was treading on the boundaries of Jason Bourne and James Bond. The shot where Tom Cruise jumps from the boardwalk to the mast of the yacht was certainly kept long to show that old Tom has still got it. After all, 48 is just a number. But, the so-called comic interludes while setting up an action scene was challenging. It was a warning that the stunts would represent the equal amount of the humor, i.e. less laughs = less stunts, more laughs = more stunts. The scene in which Cruise walks past bullets to kiss Diaz as John Powell’s romantic chords strike, reminded me of Indian films where heroism is a staple diet.

The screenplay is forcefully fed with plot points.  Surprisingly, the macguffin is not at all interesting. In Indiana Jones movies, the macguffin is mentioned and kept alive in almost every scene. In Knight and Day, the Zypher (a trickier/techno word for Cipher), an energy transmitting battery, is the macguffin and alarmingly, I was led to believe that batteries could actually produce a lot energy. “This can blow up a large submarine or a small city.” Miller announces as he shows it to June. Yes, it is a common Hollywood rule that the smart and good-hearted CIA/FBI Agent is the wicked and two-timing antagonist. Peter Saarsgard however looks less competent for this role. Patrick Wilson (The A-Team) seemed to be a perfect choice for it.

Well, the next thing I could criticize is the CGI. It has become a fashion that the audience is given the opportunity to recognize which is CGI and which is real. The bulls which run out of a Spanish bullfight seem to be an easy recognition. I once believed that the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park were real. That was CGI, glorious CGI.

Tom and Cam are desperate to emit humor in every scene, every line of dialogue. If I was given a chance to choose different actors, I’d have picked up Robert Pattinson and Keira Knightley. You don’t see vampires trying to evoke humor, do you? Thankfully, their onscreen chemistry scorches the screen and scenes which involve Cam appearing in a bikini or Tom appearing topless are just to keep the younger members of the audience captivated.

Hollywood studios look at action comedies as a gateway to a script full of twists and turns. But, with action comedies raining down this year (The Bounty Hunter, Date Night and Killers), I seem to have decoded what can make a successful action comedy or at least a moderately successful action comedy.  The following formula applies to movies where a couple is pitted together. The couple could either be married/divorced or strangers. If married, they must be in therapy and if divorced, well, you could add a few pages on how it happened. Before any action scene begins, you must have a heavy dose of laughter, so that the audience is busy laughing and you can find time to perform some larger-than-life stunts. Here’s the basic rule in stemming romance: the couple are unsteadily together (especially the girl), then they slowly get together and there has to be a plot point which actually exposes the husband/male stranger’s notion that he has no interest in the girl. So, the girl decides to go loose only to learn that he had been trying to protect her all along. So, the stupid girl goes back for the guy and unknowingly screws up a rather important deal which leads to the final action scene where they fight as a team.

Now that you know it, why not try making one on your own.

Knight and Day is a staple Hollywood entertainer. Tom and Cam may be the reasons for its strength. Unknowingly, they are also the reasons for its weakness.