Cormac McCarthy often comes up with really good stories but he doesn’t know how to tell them, because he can’t write his way out of a paper bag. His original script for Ridley Scott’s movie The Counselor is a case in point. It’s not a terribly original story — lawyer with financial problems thinks he can take a one-time step into criminality to save himself and finds himself trapped in darkness. It’s basically the plot of the John Garfield classic Force Of Evil, updated, with a more downbeat ending.
But it’s still a good story, set in lots of interesting locations, handsomely photographed by director Scott. The dialogue bounces back and forth between the pretentious and the banal, but it’s quirky stuff, refreshing as a change of pace from the cookie-cutter writing in most modern thrillers.
Sadly, McCarthy is a soi-disant artiste, so he can’t just let the story have its way — he has to weigh it down with philosophical claptrap, which eventually sinks the tale. His stories are better served when real storytellers, like the Coen brothers, take his narratives and cut the bullshit — cut to the chase. The Counselor dribbles away at the end into nihilistic gobbledegook, into supposedly intellectual conceits that don’t bear much actual intellectual scrutiny. McCarthy is a literary poseur, who turns stories into tiresome post-modern parlor games.