Less than the sum of its parts

Simon Thomson
Cert 18 | By Simon Thomson
Two Stars

GREEDY and ambitious, a successful lawyer ignores the warnings of his friends in the criminal underworld, and becomes involved with a Mexican drug cartel. When a shipment goes missing, suspicion falls on the counsellor (Michael Fassbender), and the perfect life he has built comes crashing down around him.

The Counsellor is a moral tale, not so much about decisions, but consequences, and accepting that sometimes by the time they become clear, nothing can be done to escape them.

Directed by Ridley Scott, and written by Cormac McCarthy (The Road, No Country for Old Men), The Counsellor has a stellar cast, including Javier Bardem, Penélope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, and Brad Pitt.

Ridley Scott hasn’t made a good film since Black Hawk Down and The Counsellor does not signal a return to form. It takes about an hour for anything to happen and, by that time, it’s difficult to muster interest, which is a pity because, had the film quickly established the characters and explained their actions better, the creeping tragedy that follows could have had real dramatic impact.

The film is decently acted, but seldom impressive. Fassbender is adequate in a role where the lack of a given name only draws attention to the lack of other characteristics on which to hang a performance. Bardem again seems to have accepted a role mostly on the understanding that he would be allowed to have a ridiculous hairstyle. But there is a nice cameo from Dean Norris, Breaking Bad’s Hank Schrader, and the film represents some of Diaz’s best work (though that is more a reflection on her previous roles).

After viewing The Counsellor, it is the gimmicks that linger in the mind – the pet cheetahs, and the ingenious decapitation device – when it should have been a dark view of humanity and the cautionary tale that, sometimes, the consequences of our actions are unavoidable, and devastating.

Cert 18 | By Simon Thomson
Four Stars

DON JON is a classic tale of boy meets girl, only she’s addicted to rom-coms and he’s addicted to porn. It’d be a great movie for an awkward date.

Written and competently directed by Joseph Gordon Levitt; he also plays the titular lothario, a shallow New Jersey pick-up artist, who likes the ladies, but not as much as the pixelated variety.

On a night out with his friends, Jon meets Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson), a beautiful, but equally self-obsessed, Jewish-American Princess.

After blagging her Facebook contact and asking her out for coffee, the two embark on a pitifully hollow relationship, which is all that either deserves.

She sets about shaping him into her idealised boyfriend, forcing him to watch vapid romantic comedies, and dangling the possibility of sex to get him to enrol in night school, while he neglects his friends and lies about his use of pornography, which gives him, albeit fleetingly, a transcendent sense of release. And if that were all that happened, it would be a terrible film about terrible people. But when a fellow student (the excellent Julianne Moore) catches him watching porn in class, it sets Jon on the path to a more meaningful existence.

More drama than comedy, there are still funny moments, like Jon’s weekly trips to the confessional, and his meat-headed, macho interactions with his father (a great turn by former sit-com star Tony Danza).

Don Jon is a timely examination of the influence of freely available pornography on the lives and relationships of young men, but it may have been more balanced if it had focused on the consumerist fantasies that informed Johansson’s character, too. Still, watching Jon’s slow transformation from Guido caricature into someone with an interior life and the ability to form deep attachments will leave you feeling satisfied.