Reviews of The Counselor are in, and depending on who you ask, Michael Fassbender's icy performance is either a superb echo of protagonists from great film noirs past, or it's representative of a chatty, but ultimately empty story brought to you by No Country For Old Men novelist Cormac McCarthy, making his screenwriting debut.
Here the British actor plays a greedy lawyer hoping to make some fast cash by getting involved in a drug deal with the kind of crooks he's used to representing. The film has a stellar cast including Brad Pitt—Fassbender's costar in 12 Years a Slave, which is currently in limited release—Penélope Cruz, Cameron Diaz and Javier Bardem.
The Counselor also reunites Fassbender with his Prometheus director Ridley Scott, who is garnering praise for filling the screen with his signature slick visuals, but apparently fails to get moviegoers emotionally invested in what many critics are saying is a very charmless enterprise, replete with fetishistic violence—though the sex scenes are something to behold.
Here's a sampling of the critical reaction:
• "Despite its scaldingly hot cast and formidable writer/director combination, The Counselor is simply not a very likable or gratifying film. In fact, it's a bummer," panned Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter, calling it a "waste of a lot of fine talent both behind and in front of the camera."
• "The Counselor is not faux McCarthy; it's just bad McCarthy," wrote Mary Pols in Time. "The Counselor is such a passive sort, and Fassbender's portrayal so fundamentally flat—he's entirely miscast and has never been this blank or dull on screen—that it is never clear what has compelled the character into this foolish business."
She adds that the film is "portentous" and "emotionally vacant."
• "The Counselor is a very bad film, and I suspect that a lot of the actors knew that already as they did their work. It lacks clarity, plausibility, suspense, and purpose. But it has two lovely cheetahs and the exquisite elegance of Bruno Ganz," opined David Thomson in The New Republic.
• "The central flaw of the film, though, comes (surprisingly) at the hands of Cormac McCarthy, the manly-man novelist…who wrote a script so dripping with abstraction and philosophy that it often feels like we're watching half of a film, the half that ought to have been edited out," offered Sam Allard of the Cleveland Scene. "With a nonstop barrage of cameos, monologues and no prominent storyline, the movie is a narrative disaster."
• On the other hand, Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times called The Counselor "a badass journey from start to finish," and Fassbender "brilliant," writing: "Director Ridley Scott and screenwriter Cormac McCarthy have fashioned a sexy, sometimes shockingly violent, literate and richly textured tale of the Shakespearean consequences of one man's irrevocable act of avarice. It's also a bloody great time."
• "The film looks spectacular…[and] no amount of needless chatter can quite dilute the power of The Counselor's grim endgame, especially given the way its writer and director conspire to keep the threat offscreen, like some terrible, unseen force of nature. Still, it would have been nice if the movie didn't veer so dangerously close to outright misogyny," noted A.A. Dowd in The A.V. Club.
The Counselor hits theaters on Friday, Oct. 25.