“Take care! Be on your guard against
all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of
possessions.” (Luke 12:15)
Jesus told us this, and in “The
Counselor,” Reiner (Javier Bardem) tries to tell the criminal defense
attorney known only as Counselor (Michael Fassbender) the very same thing.
Of course, Reiner is speaking from the context of obviously having a
grandiloquent set of possessions himself, including, it would seem, a
sex-crazed girlfriend named Malkina (Cameron Diaz).
But the irony of Reiner warning the Counselor that he’s in over his
head is that Reiner himself was, also, he just didn’t realize it until it
was too late.
But the Counselor is determined to
embark on his fateful greedy path; he claims “his back is against the
wall,” and we aren’t told exactly why that is; perhaps it has something to
do with purchasing a magnificent Dutch diamond as an engagement ring for his
gorgeous girlfriend Laura (Penelope Cruz), as if buying her affection will
make her devotion stronger. She is
indeed lovely to behold, but her concern over his sudden unexplained absences
portends an ignominious end to their breathless new love.
The Counselor’s contact on the supply
end, a drugstore cowboy named Westray (Brad Pitt), also warns of the necessity
of having a rapid exit plan in place, but he’s not as smart as he thinks he
is, either. Like an addicted poker
player, he admits he’s already been in the game too long for his own good.
But it’s just too fantastically tempting, turning a smuggled drug
shipment worth thousands into a street value of millions.
And the method is pretty impressive, too.
A hazardous waste dump truck is custom-fitted with airtight drums of
the cocaine bricks, inside the sludge in the hazardous waste tank.
So if anybody demands proof that they’re carrying what they say
they’re carrying, just pull the release lever.
As for accessing the purloined plunder, well, that requires a
custom-made electrical modem that is magnificently portable:
it can be independently transported, inside the helmet of an anonymous
Ah, but the best-laid plans of
unrighteous men oft go awry. What if
the motorcyclist can be identified and waylaid?
Then the truck itself hijacked by fake cops?
Now everybody involved in this ill-fated illegal shipment is somehow
held accountable by the conscienceless cartel for the missing contents.
And no, they won’t let you claim it’s not your fault.
They will exact their pound of flesh, because they don’t bother to
bargain. That’s only for the weak.
Writer Cormac McCarthy (“No Country
For Old Men”) is given to philosophical waxings by secondary characters,
like the Mexican attorney whom the Counselor attempts to negotiate with, to no
avail. Since almost everyone here is a
victim of their own greed, it’s very difficult, as a viewer, to actually
root for any of the characters, since none are exactly innocent.
But rarely are so many main characters eliminated from the discussion
of which will be “last one standing.” McCarthy
also displays more than a casual curiosity in religious significance, as
protagonists talk about confession, and one actually visits a confessional,
but the priest calmly refuses to hear the sins of anyone who is not Catholic.
An ecclesiastical indictment wrapped in clerical garb?
“The Counselor” is slick and
sensual, but also sobering and suffocating. At
the end you’ll want to come up for air, and maybe some light and some
gaiety, all profoundly absent in this border-noire tale of sexploitation.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister, St.
Stephen’s Presbyterian Church,