Written for the screen by Pulitzer Prize winner Cormac McCarthy, his recognizable pessimism about human nature prevails: characters seduced by greed, self preservation at all costs, and the tragic fate that befalls individuals who have any redeeming qualities. Unexpected twists and turns and several predictable crises follow, none revealed here, though the plot trajectory nicely doubles back on itself.
Set in the El Paso/Juarez border area, the desert environment enhances the conflict. In fact, striking settings and stunning art direction add intensity, commenting metaphorically throughout. There's the flamboyant drug dealer Reiner's purple wall; spikes of cacti on the edges of several compositions; a septic tank carrying the goods; unleashed cheetahs; and the pervasive use of glass, implicitly suggesting the solid enclosures for all these high rollers who think they see so well but are clearly trapped. Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski effectively lights every locale to define the mood and personality of the action therein.
Add to that the spectacular ensemble acting, led by the versatile Michael Fassbender as The Counselor, Penélope Cruz as his sexy fiancé Laura, Cameron Diaz as the sinister Malkina, Javier Bardem as a ruthless Reiner, and Brad Pitt as savvy middleman Westray. Beyond the individual acting talent represented with this lineup, the charged exchanges among them illustrates what superior actors bring to a film--they interact.
Daniel Pemberton's music and the sound work well to add tension. And there's some clever writing In a wonderful exchange late in the film, Westray comments that cartel members don't believe in coincidences. They've heard of them, he adds, they've just never seen one. Sure, it's another drug deal gone bad and a "when will they ever learn?" question pervades. McCarthy's obligatory, repulsive violence intrudes. That isn't thrilling but "The Counselor," cynicism and all, is. At area cinemas.