A lawyer and his associates get caught up in a drug deal gone wrong: the synopsis of Ridley Scott’s The Counselor. Unfortunately, that’s probably all you’ll ever fully comprehend about the film.

With many gems in his directorial repertoire, 1979’s Alien, Thelma & Louis, Gladiator, and last year’s Prometheus, to name a few, the bar is exceptionally high for this Englishman’s latest effort. Nevertheless, he’s notoriously known for the slow pacing of his work (Blade Runner, or “Blade Crawler” as critics have called it, being a prime example). Being called slow may be the least of his worries, however. His latest collaboration with Pulitzer Prize-winning author and first-time screenplay writer Cormac McCarthy (The Road, No Country for Old Men, All the Pretty Horses) is not only sluggish and uninspired; it may well be his weakest film.

Set in a troubled Mexican area, the unnamed protagonist (Michael Fassbender) is a confident attorney who steps across the line of morality when he plans a drug deal with longtime associate and partner in crime, Reiner (Javier Bardem), a porcupine-haired Mexican with a penchant for pet cheetahs, luxurious garments and lavish parties. The duo contact middleman Westray (Brad Pitt), who ropes them in on an attractive enterprise with an expected profit in the ballpark of US$20 million (S$25 million). Hopping in the ride to extreme riches are polar opposites Malkina (Cameron Diaz), Reiner’s enigmatic girlfriend, and Laura (Penélope Cruz), the soon-to-be wife of The Counselor.

While Malkina, whose name is interestingly a derivative of “Grimalkin”, meaning “an evil looking female cat”, “enjoys rattling cages”, sports an impressive cheetah tattoo across her back, and gushes about her sexual escapades at every opportunity, Laura on the other hand, is guileless, naïve and ignorant of her husband’s dabbling in the drug world.

Here’s where things become convoluted to the point of absolute bafflement. We list the things that happen after the characters are introduced:

1. The Counselor inexplicably bails the son of a murder convict (Rosie Perez) out of a speeding ticket. That same biker (not learning the error of his ways) then gets decapitated while speeding to somewhere by a carefully aligned wire that can cut through seemingly anything.

2. The men who planted the wire, then get gunned down (alongside 1 passerby with utter rotten luck being in the wrong place at the wrong time) by 2 faux policemen.

3. A truck containing barrels of cocaine is inconspicuously parked along a rundown building and left untouched for a large remainder of the film.

4. Westray lines up a slew of meetings with The Counselor to discuss “important things” when they could’ve just as easily communicated over the phone (they usually end up in cryptic riddles about the Mexican drug cartels).

5. Malkina’s agenda throughout is extremely woolly. The consummate femme fatale visits a confessional to talk to a priest, orchestrates Westray’s murder, and has a steamy scene with Reiner’s Ferrari where she straddles the windshield and proceeds to pleasure herself. Reiner humorously recounts the experience as being “like a catfish, one of those things with the suckers going up the glass”.

6. To further complicate things, Reiner is setting up a bar, and a riot is started by the mother of the biker. Both of them, unfortunately, did nothing to contribute to the plot.

Each of the scenes above, which were so disjointed from each other, not only caused more confusion, but also shed little to no light on the motivations of each character or the plot. In the end, important details about the intricacies of the drug deal and why everything went wrong are left unexplained.

Writer McCarthy’s treatment of the film will spur polarising opinions. His signature style offers bleak, nihilistic monologues about the perception of death and morality (“Life is not going to take you back, but for those with the understanding that there are living the last days of their world, death acquires a different meaning”).

While bewitching in their expressiveness, being splattered repeatedly throughout the entirety of the 117-minute film rendered them mildly nauseating. Every character seems to have all the makings of a visionary philosopher as they regurgitated beautiful lines about suffering and the nature of humans (“You are the world you have created, and when you cease to exist, this world you have created will also cease to exist” – spouts a drug lord). Admittedly, fans of McCarthy’s work will revel in it, while others will run from the grandiloquence of it all.

Despite its flaws, The Counselor is not without its moments of ingenuity. The main cast of A-list Hollywood types gave no quarter in the acting of the characters. Pitt’s portrayal of the charismatic, sharp-dressed womanizer Westray in particular is captivating and a pleasure to watch, while the sparse humor sprinkled in the film is strategic and brilliant. “206? That isn’t a speed, that’s the time, or someone’s body weight,” says the Counselor of the speed that the biker was going at.

Objectively, The Counselor was immensely promising as a gripping tale of tragedy and a brutally honest commentary on the human condition of avarice and the stark reality of choice and consequences.

Unfortunately, like a spider caught in its own web, it gets trapped in its own muddled plot, shallow characters and philosophical speak. The Counselor is a portentous clash of an outstanding director who endeavored for depth, and a dramatic writer whose script didn’t match. The end product is a misguided assembly of some of the most talented faces of Hollywood caught up in a storyline that is over-elaborate and ostentatious.

Movie Name: The Counselor
Rating: 1.9/5
Release Date: Nov 28, 2013
Runtime: 117 min
Language: English
Censorship: M18
Genre:  Thriller
Director: Ridley Scott
Actors: Michael Fassbender, Javiar Bardem, Brad Pitt, PenélopeCruz