This week, there are three new movies out that focus on people you would never want to spend time with in real life. So the question is, why bother spending time with them in a theatre?
The biggest movie of the weekend is “The Counselor,” which features an assortment of stars who should really know better. Among them are Brad Pitt, Penelope Cruz, Michael Fassbender, Javier Bardem and especially Cameron Diaz, who tries to look sexy but winds up with an even grosser scene than the hair-gel moment that made her famous in “There’s Something About Mary.”
Perhaps they were pulled together by the fact legendary director Ridley Scott (“Alien,” “Blade Runner,” “Thelma & Louise”) was at the helm, or the fact that it was written by Cormac McCarthy, who did a great job with the dark modern film noir “No Country for Old Men” but unleashed one of the most depressing movies ever made with “The Road” a couple years later. But no matter the lure, the result is a sleazy and incomprehensible mess that is utterly disrespectful to Catholics and the sacrament of Confession to boot.
The movie attempts to follow the story of a lawyer named only The Counselor, who’s called “the counselor” by a shady new client who’s a Mexican drug lord (Bardem). He has never taken on a dirty job before, but he wants to get engaged to his longtime girlfriend (Cruz) and the lure of working on a job that involves $20 million in drugs and international travel seems like an easy way to set himself and his love up for life.
He’s warned by a mysterious international money launderer (Pitt) that crossing paths with Mexican drug deals and major money means that his life could be endangered at any time. And in fact, there’s an immediate threat to everyone on the scene in the form of Malkina (Diaz), Reiner’s lover who is basically a sociopath obsessed with being as sexually perverse and murderously ambitious as possible.
Basically, everything that can go wrong does – both in the events onscreen and in the way in which the movie is made, but almost none of it wound up making a lick of sense to either myself or my guest, a British director with 10 feature films to her credit.
Backstabbing, murder, perverse sexual behavior, and the profanity-laced discussion of all of the above along with the non-stop use of Jesus’ name as a noun, verb, adverb and adjective make “The Counselor” must-avoid viewing for discerning Catholics and frankly viewers of any kind.
Add in the scene where Diaz mocks Cruz for admitting she goes to Mass and Confession before sneaking into a Confessional herself and attempting to make a priest listen to her laundry list of sexual sins (he leaves before she can start), and you’ve got to wonder if Diaz needs to attend counseling herself. Between this and her other epically tasteless turn in “Bad Teacher” in 2011, she definitely at least needs some career advice.
Meanwhile, “All Is Lost” and “Kill Your Darlings” are good illustrations of the fact that a film with the “right” people or subject matter will be lauded by critics, even if audiences can’t stand them. In this regard, “All is Lost,” starring Redford as a man who finds himself alone on a yacht far out on the open ocean, is the bigger offender of the two.
As the story goes, Redford’s character is awakened one night after his vessel is hit by a giant metal shipping container that apparently fell off a cargo ship, leaving a gaping hole in his boat that quickly starts taking in water. Redford must figure out how he’s going to save himself once his electrical outlets blow out and he’s left without a radio in the middle of a watery nowhere.
Along the way, Redford’s character, unnamed in the film and listed only as “Our Man” in the credits, must battle storms, leaks, dwindling supplies and near drowning. This might sound exciting, but Our Man has no one to talk to throughout the entire movie.
There’s barely any music, either, except in a few dramatic moments, leaving audiences left with about as much entertainment as Our Man gets to enjoy. If you want to see an old man get sunburned, eat a lot of canned beans, lie around in desperation, pump water out of a ship and fight drowning three separate times, this is your movie.
At the screening I attended, at least half the audience abandoned ship, grumbling loudly about either feeling seasick or thoroughly bored or both. At one point, Redford treats us to a single moment of him screaming the F-word at the heavens. The audience will entirely relate to his frustration.
It’s a shame, because Redford once made meaningful films and cared about entertaining people. But apparently not anymore, with the iconic actor making one dirge-like film after another, all focusing on various aspects of old age and mortality that have invariably bombed.
Unfortunately, viewers trapped in this movie, which lacks a straight narrative, will feel that they’ve lost time and money to two hours of unrelenting dreariness.
Also lacking a straight narrative, albeit in a different way, is “Kill Your Darlings,” the story of how the Beat Generation of poets and writers — Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs — all seemed to be bound together by secret homosexual trysts and a now largely forgotten murder. Following the young artists as they meet in college and attempt to break through what they see as the prisons of conventional art and expression, the movie spends chunks of time depicting their heavy drinking and drug experimentation, as well as the roundelay of relationships they went through as some had to maintain marriages to cover the tracks of their closeted lives.
Despite all the partying and illicit sex, all of these guys seem utterly miserable and behave obnoxiously toward the rest of society. No one’s saying that a movie has to be about positive heroic characters, but “Kill” is likely to make audiences feel like they’ve been invited to a party populated by people they can’t stand.
The big casting coup in this film is Daniel Radcliffe, who’s making about as far a leap away from Harry Potter as possible to avoid being typecast. Let’s just say that between the drug use and the graphic man-on-man bedroom action, this isn’t a movie you’ll want your youngsters to touch with a 10-foot wand.
Last year’s film adaptation of “On the Road” ended decades of aborted attempts to turn Kerouac’s largely shapeless, mood-driven novel into a movie. It failed miserably, again likely because the people who seem so romantic and exciting on the page are almost sociopathic on the screen in their endless drive to satisfy any desire that comes their way.
For those interested in seeing this film, take my advice: Read the book instead.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.