Just say no…to running drugs across the Mexican border. That's the takeaway from this cautionary tale by legendary director Ridley Scott and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Cormac McCarthy. Michael Fassbender, currently starring in the far superior 12 Years a Slave, plays an El Paso attorney simply called The Counselor, who's looking to score some cash after proposing to his girlfriend, Laura (Penélope Cruz). He enters a cocaine-trafficking deal that involves nightclub owner Reiner (Javier Bardem), Reiner's malevolent lover Malkina (Cameron Diaz), and shady middleman Westray (Brad Pitt). What could go wrong, right? Lots — for the counselor character and the movie itself.
Find out more with these five essential facts:
Cormac & Ridley: Several of McCarthy's novels — including No Country for Old Men, The Road, and All the Pretty Horses — have been made into movies, but The Counselor marks the author's screenwriting debut. He was working on two novels when he decided to take a break from books and tackle a screenplay. McCarthy has been called the "Shakespeare of the West," and director Scott filmed Thelma & Louise in the desert Southwest, so their collaboration on a Texas- and Mexico-set story must have seemed like a sure bet.
Married Off-Screen, Not On: Bardem returns to the McCarthy universe for the first time since his Oscar-winning turn as ice-cold assassin Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men. He trades that infamous bowl haircut for a spiky 'do and extreme tan to play flashily dressed Reiner. Bardem's real-life wife, Cruz, doesn't share any scenes with her husband. Instead, she appears as the counselor's bride-to-be and gets relegated to the role of the pretty, perfect woman on the sidelines.
There's Something About Malkina: Diaz signed on for the Malkina role after Angelina Jolie reportedly passed. Diaz tries hard to be evil and exotic as she flashes her gold tooth, silver fingernails, and cheetah tattoos. For sport, she watches her pet cheetahs hunt and kill their prey. There couldn't be a more obvious metaphor, as slinky man-eater Malkina purrs, "I'm famished," and stalks her own next victim. Diaz lacks the chops to dimensionalize this feline femme fatale or pull off McCarthy's more stylized dialog.
Baby, You Can Hump My Car: In a scene that's sure to rev some engines, Malkina removes her panties, straddles Reiner's sports car, and grinds against the windshield until she…um…drives it all the way home. Are we suddenly watching My Strange Addiction? Diaz proves she's limber and game, and the scene is an outrageous hoot, especially as recalled by Reiner. But like much of the sex and violence in The Counselor, it's included primarily for shock value.
Looking the Part: The Counselor shot overseas for eight weeks, with locations in the UK and Spain subbing for U.S. and Mexico settings. Costume designer Janty Yates clearly had a blast dressing the actors, selecting Armani suits for Fassbender, sophisticated designer wear for Diaz, and bright flamboyant colors for Bardem. For Pitt's character, Ridley Scott wanted a look that evoked country singer Hank Williams and western movie star Gene Autry, so Yates chose tailored, vintage-style cowboy suits with Stetson hats and lizard and crocodile boots. Heck yeah!