Where Did The Counselor Go Wrong?

the-counselorbodPhoto: Courtesy of Chockstone Pictures.
Updated: The Counselor fell squarely in fourth place this weekend, between Captain Phillips and Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2. Take from that what you will.
After months of holding our collective breath in anticipation of Ridley Scott’s crime saga, The Counselor, it’s finally here, and well, meh.
Instead of making the box-office splash that a film of this pedigree should make, a combination of scathing reviews and anemic tracking numbers have The Counselor poised to land with a disapointing thud. Not even an original script by Pulitzer Prize-winning scribe, Cormac McCarthy, and a boldface cast toplined by Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, and Cameron Diaz will rescue the film. Some experts project that it will make as little as $7 million on opening weekend. That’s a staggeringly low take for a movie that, mere months ago, seemed to generate more hoopla than a Kanye rant.
To make matters worse, Johnny Knoxville’s hidden camera raunch-com Bad Grandpa, which was made for over $10 million less than The Counselor, is expected to top the box office with a staggering — wait for it — $30 million.
So, what went wrong?
Full disclosure: We haven’t seen it. But, if the reviews are any indication, The Counselor is just plain awful. As of now, it sits at a ghastly 35% on Rotten Tomatoes. That’s less than the most recent crimes against humanity, Carrie and Escape Plan. “It lacks clarity, plausibility, suspense, and purpose,” trills David Thomson of The New Republic, while Time Magazine’s Mary F. Pohl calls it “a parody of a Cormac McCarthy adaptation...It's derivative nonsense.”
A lot of the vitriol has been aimed squarely at Diaz, who does look miscast as a sex-crazed, tatted-up vixen. Even the usually reliable Fassbender, as the titular counselor who gets caught up in a drug smuggling scheme gone bad, allegedly misses the mark. In fact, none of the cast has been able to escape the wrath of critics, which might explain why they haven’t done much in the way of promoting it. In particular, Fassbender and Pitt are both having a moment with the consensus movie-of-the-year, 12 Years a Slave, and the last thing they need is the stench of a bomb like The Counselor following them along the Oscar campaign trail.
To be fair, bad reviews don’t always equal box-office poison. However, it’s a prestige film targeted to adults being released in the heart of awards season, so what the critics say, although not crucial, does matter. But, with a mega-wide 3,000 theater release, and a whole whack of movie stars on the marquee, The Counselor should have been a lock for at least a $20 million opening. (We would add that the film’s release, with competing dramas like Gravity and Captain Phillips on rotation, is ill-timed.)
Many critics have argued that the film is just a bummer — an ugly study of very bad people doing very bad things in the desert. After all, who would want to watch the story of a man that gets in over his head with a bunch of sadistic drug dealers and crime bosses? (Ahem, that's all you Breaking Bad fanatics.) What the failure of The Counselor does prove, is that you can’t sell a film on pedigree alone. With so many options being thrown at us, and with the added lure of Netflix, iTunes, and illegal downloading, it’ll take a lot more than Brad Pitt in a cowboy hat to get audiences to fork over $12+ for a silver-screen ticket. Now, give us Brad Pitt as a chemistry teacher battling Somali pirates in outer space, and that’s a different story entirely.

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