herald

Sunday 22 April 2018

Bad hair, bad accents, bad film: Ridley makes a Mexican mess

Michael Fassbender as Counsellor and Javier Bardem as Reiner in 'The Counsellor'
Michael Fassbender as Counsellor and Javier Bardem as Reiner in 'The Counsellor'

THE COUNSELLOR Thriller: Starring Michael Fassbender, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt, Bruno Ganz, Rosie Perez, Toby Kebbell Director: Ridley Scott Cert: 16

THIS must have seemed like such a good idea at the time. For years now Ridley Scott has apparently been trying to get an adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel Blood Meridian into production, although quite how a story which features random slaughter, homosexual rape, scalping and savage castration in its opening section would translate to the screen in any permissible way is rather beyond me. Best of luck with that one, Ridley.

So, when McCarthy delivered his first original screenplay through the letterbox of chez Scott joy must have been unconfined. And this is where the problems begin.

Just because someone is good at writing in one field does not mean they can automatically transfer to another, quite specific, medium. Quite simply, had anyone other than Cormac McCarthy's name been on this script it would have been in the bin before the reader reached the third page.

Ostensibly a morality tale about a drug deal destined to go wrong on the Tex-Mex border, what The Counsellor manages to do is take an impressive, if slightly ill- chosen cast and burden them with a series of utterly ludicrous cod-philosophical monologues as a vague and quite non sensical narrative unfolds. The titular counsellor (Michael Fassbender), for reasons which are never revealed, has decided to set up a multi-million dollar cocaine deal with a Mexican drugs cartel, using the flamboyant nightclub owner Reiner (Javier Bardem, having another mad hair day) as his go-between. Smitten with the lovely Laura (Penelope Cruz), the lawyer's motivations for his actions are never clear (maybe he lost all his money in the Irish property market and decided that dealing with Mexican gangsters was preferable going on the lam in Wales) but they do bring him into contact with the charismatic Westray (Brad Pitt), who warns him just what the people he's dealing with are capable of.

RIDICULOUS

Some of this sounds like it might possibly have worked as a movie had the screenplay not been weighed down with the aforementioned monologues – the worst gangster savant nonsense since Perrier's Bounty or Guy Ritchie's Revolver – but the real killer for the film is the hilariously inappropriate casting and performance of Cameron Diaz. A fine light comedienne, here she's so out of her depth that one almost feels sorry for her. Playing a Barbados-born moll who turns out to be an evil mastermind, not only did she have to redub all her dialogue to get rid of a ridiculous sub-Rihanna accent but she sashays through every scene like she's in a Vogue shoot rather than a film and, in the film's 'Ah Lads' moment, gets to make love to the bonnet and windscreen of a Ferrari. I kid you not – all that's missing is Whitesnake on the soundtrack at that point.

Some of the cast do their best with the truly terrible material (Pitt and Fassbender in particular) and Scott can still shoot classy-looking scenes but The Counsellor is an abomination of a movie which should be laughed out of court. HIIII

THE butler Drama: Starring Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, Mariah Carey, Cuba Gooding Jr, John Cusack, Robin Williams, Alan Rickman, Liev Schrieber, David Oyelowo, Elijah Kelly, Vanessa Redgrave, Jane Fonda, James Marsden Director: Lee Daniels Cert: 12A

THE Butler is a film so worthy but deadly dull it could almost stand as a parody of a film likely to win Oscar nominations, just so as not to offend the African-American audience in the States. Ostensibly based on the memoirs of Eugene Allen, although here called Cecil Gaines for some reason, a man who came from a cotton plantation in the 1920s and went to serve as a butler to seven presidents in the White House, this a clunky, lumbering drayhorse of a movie.

Forest Whitaker is fine as Gaines, the prism through which we're expected to see the, ahem, gains made by black Americans from the 50s to the present day, but whatever points the movie may have to make are as obvious as hell. Matters aren't helped either by having the sainted Oprah Winfrey turning in a terrible performance as Gaines' wife Gloria but the stunt casting of the various presidents does at least offer some light relief. John Cusack – too tall, too young – as Nixon? Alan Rickman and Jane Fonda as Ronald and Nancy Reagan?

As I said earlier, worthy but deadly, deadly dull.

2 STARS

Don JOn Drama: Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Rob Brown, Glenn Headly, Brie Larson, Tony Danza Director: Joseph Gordon-Levitt Cert: 18

LURKING somewhere beneath the shiny surface of Joseph Gordon-Levitt's debut as a writer-director I'm sure there's a decent point being made about the unrealistic expectations of 20-somethings when it comes to matters of relationships. Alas, any subtleties which might be teased out of such observations are swamped by a hyperactive directing style and a crudity in the approach to dialogue.

Gordon-Levitt plays Jon Martello, who rarely misses with the ladies but reckons that they can't beat the fantasies of online pornography. However, his outlook appears to change when he meets the stunning Barbara (Scarlett Johansson). Johansson has a pretty thankless task here, hardly helped by a script which has Jon attend night classes to improve himself and subsequently meet the widowed Esther (Julianne Moore) who helps make him see that women are more than mere sex objects.

There are a few decent ideas and performances here – not least that of Tony Danza as Jon's argumentative father and the always impeccable Moore – but the central premise is simply too broad and crude to work.

HHIII

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