Oct. 26 (Bloomberg) -- Ridley Scott’s messy, overheated “The Counselor” may be remembered only for Cameron Diaz’s amazingly limber depiction of car sex.
Not in a car, mind you. With a car.
“You see a thing like that,” says her haunted boyfriend, played by Javier Bardem, “it changes you.”
An unrestrained indulgence in writer Cormac McCarthy’s Southwestern Gothic, “The Counselor” tells the tale of a good man undone by greed and a single lapse in judgment.
It’s all meant to be Shakespearean. Overwrought soliloquies about auto eroticism, snuff films and mechanical strangulation devices do not, however, a “Hamlet” make.
The good man is the unnamed counselor, a Gucci-suited Texas lawyer (Michael Fassbender, suggesting nothing of the Lone Star state) who gets wrapped up in a drug trafficking deal with his nightclub-owning client (Bardem).
By a coincidence that won’t be unraveled with one viewing, another client of the Counselor is murdered, irritating an ultra-violent Mexican cartel.
McCarthy, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Road” making his screenwriting debut here, favors rambling, off-kilter dialogue and quirky speechifying over plot cohesion and easy explanations.
Or any explanations, for that matter. Much is made of two pet leopards set loose in the countryside, as well as a massive diamond introduced with all the subtlety of a Zales commercial.
All three are later recalled only as an afterthought, when Diaz’s femme fatale is asked something along the lines of, “Hey, whatever happened to...”
Cameos by familiar faces -- Ruben Blades, John Leguizamo and Rosie Perez pad an ensemble that already includes Penelope Cruz and Brad Pitt -- seem like outtakes from abandoned plot lines.
“You are now at a crossroads,” Blades’s heretofore unknown sage advises the counselor late in the film, “and you want to choose, but there is no choosing there, only accepting.”
Fine. Now about those leopards...
“The Counselor,” from Twentieth Century Fox, is playing across the U.S. Rating: ** (Evans)
“Bastards,” French director Claire Denis’s strange, enthralling thriller, opens with a suicide, a bankrupted wife and a daughter hospitalized after a sexual horror. (We see her naked on the street, smeared with blood.)
For a while the carefully fractured narrative keeps us from fully comprehending what’s going on.
Into this stew of depravity steps the girl’s uncle, the upright Marco (Vincent Lindon), a French Philip Marlowe returned from seafaring to defend and avenge his family.
The movie is menacingly quiet. There’s nothing pushy about the danceable electronic score (by Tindersticks). For American tastes, it may be, like its Gary Cooper-esque hero, almost too reticent. Even in moments of high emotion, Denis keeps the temperature down to a chill.
The title characters are rich old profligates who consider the women they’ve paid for their property and don’t mind seeing them damaged.
I resisted the director’s broad-stroke picture of innocence defiled by power, until I realized that those brush strokes were more intricate than I’d perceived. The orderly corruption she depicts involves bargains that have been entered into on all sides.
The film’s subject is the self-sustaining system of abuse. As it keeps stripping away layers of lies, and the director follows out the cruelest implications of her vision, “Bastards” earns a place next to the 1974 “Chinatown,” which it often recalls. It’s that hypnotically dark.
“Bastards,” from Sundance Selects, opens Wednesday in New York. Rating: **** (Seligman)
American-style “cowboy capitalism” comes under fire in “Capital,” director Costa-Gavras’s left-leaning French drama charting the boardroom ascendancy and moral decline of a hotshot French banker.
Gad Elmaleh (“Midnight in Paris”) plays a bank’s rising star tapped by higher-ups as a place-holding patsy during the recuperation of an ailing CEO.
A disappointment to his Socialist kin, the ambitious new CEO takes to his new job like a shark to chum, angering his elders, his bosses and an American hedge fund owner (Gabriel Byrne) planning a hostile takeover.
Costa-Gavras has a good ear for boardroom doubletalk and cutthroat shenanigans, but can’t quite decide whether to praise his young prince or bury him.
And the director’s dismissive depiction of women is off-putting, to say the least, culminating in a rape that curdles the entire film.
“Capital,” from Cohen Media Group, is playing in New York. Rating: **1/2 (Evans)
The Egyptian-American documentarian Jehane Noujaim began filming in Tahrir Square, in Cairo, when it filled with protesters against the dictatorship of President Hosni Mubarak, in January 2011. Mubarak stepped down the following month.
Noujaim kept shooting into July 2013, when a coup deposed the year-old, increasingly authoritarian government led by President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood, and beyond.
“The Square” presents these events from a secular-liberal point of view -- that is, it’s both anti-Mubarak and anti-Mursi. More important than its politics is the way it fills in the emotions that were rippling through the populace.
We already have the information. No news report could render the hope and the desperation of the people who risked their lives in Tahrir Square so fully, or so thrillingly.
“The Square,” from Noujaim Films, is playing in New York. Rating: **** (Seligman)
What the Stars Mean: ***** Fantastic **** Excellent *** Good ** So-So * Poor (No stars) Avoid
(Greg Evans and Craig Seligman are critics for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are their own.)
Muse highlights include Jeremy Gerard on theater and New York Weekend.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at email@example.com.