Movie review: 'Counselor' shows man's inhumanity to man in the drug trade

'Counselor' shows man's inhumanity to man in the drug trade

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Early in "The Counselor," a character describes a deadly device known as a "bolito."

It's essentially a tiny mechanical noose, and once the steel cable is slipped over a victim's neck and tightened, there is nothing he can do except wait for imminent death. The loop contracts, blood sprays as the wire slices through the carotid arteries, and the person is dead within minutes or less.

Before the story is over, the notion of a bolito (literal and figurative) will be revisited in the thriller directed by Ridley Scott and based on an original Cormac McCarthy screenplay.

Four of Mr. McCarthy's novels, "The Road," "No Country for Old Men," "Child of God" and "All the Pretty Horses," have been turned into movies with varying degrees of success. "The Road," starring Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee as father and son wandering a post-apocalyptic landscape, was largely filmed in Western Pennsylvania.

'The Counselor'

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt, Cameron Diaz, Penelope Cruz.

Rating: R for graphic violence, some grisly images, strong sexual content and language.

This time, Mr. McCarthy dispensed with the book and jumped right to the screenplay, and in his hands -- and words -- the characters don't just gossip about women, dabble in the drug trade to the tune of millions or express their thoughts about such topics as moral decisions, greed, diamonds, destiny, confession of sins or death.

No, they are the most eloquent, insightful, quotable characters you are likely to meet straddling the law and the Texas-Mexico border and beyond. They speak as though they are reciting stage dialogue or lines or lengthy passages from a novel.

Such as: "You don't know someone till you know what they want. ... The truth about women is you can do anything to them except bore them. ... The hunter has grace, beauty and purity of heart to be found nowhere else."

Michael Fassbender plays the title character, and he is known only as "the counselor," without his actual name ever revealed. As the movie opens, the lawyer embarks on two life-altering decisions: to ask his girlfriend (Penelope Cruz) to marry him and to try to make some quick cash by getting involved in a one-time drug deal.

The latter brings him in contact with a shady middle man (Brad Pitt) who favors western wear, a flamboyant nightclub owner (Javier Bardem) physically but not monetarily removed from the world of cocaine smuggling and his girlfriend (Cameron Diaz) who keeps pet cheetahs and has a spotted tattoo snaking around a shoulder and down her back.

Before all is said and done, the principal players will be hunter or prey. Alive, dead, disappeared or dumped with the trash. Or wishing the waitress had brought the hemlock when a customer darkly asked for it.

Any Shakespearean references apparently are intended, especially for the tragic figure portrayed by Mr. Fassbender with exceptional intelligence, arrogance and vulnerability collapsing into despair.

His motivations and moral machinations remain unfocused, and other characters -- the cast also includes Bruno Ganz, Rosie Perez, Dean Norris, Natalie Dormer, Goran Visnjic and Ruben Blades in small roles -- get the briefest of backgrounds, if that.

The cast is eclectic, the method of smuggling ruthlessly ingenious and the story intriguing if unsatisfying for those who crave more detail and certainty about whether events are coincidental or connected.

The R-rated movie, featuring bedroom intimacy and a scene involving a Ferrari windshield and gymnastic sexual act, is flawed but literate. And full of treachery, cautionary tales and five leads likely to land on any list of the most valuable or beautiful people in Hollywood and beyond.

Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: or 412-263-1632. Read her blog:

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