‘Counselor’ gives hard lesson about brutality of drug trade

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‘Counselor’ gives hard lesson about brutality of drug trade

LOS ANGELES - When Michael Fassbender faced the challenge of interpreting the lead role in Cormac McCarthy’s first original screenplay, he wasn’t about to quiz the renowned American novelist about the gaps in the script for the crime drama “The Counselor.”

The Irish-German actor figured the 80-year-old McCarthy “wasn’t that type of guy.” And besides, Fassbender was drawn in by a script he called “mysterious, original.”

It had “this information that was withheld, drawing me in, and I have to fill in these blanks,” Fassbender said. “Maybe some people find it frustrating, but I find if really interesting and provocative.”

“The Counselor,” which opens in U.S. theaters on Friday, is packed with lengthy monologues and lessons about the brutality of the drug trade along the U.S.-Mexican border.

And yet, with McCarthy’s signature sparse style, the information gaps around a Texas lawyer and a drug deal gone awry are about as big as the wide-open spaces of the Southwestern landscape in the film.

The film features an all-star cast that includes Brad Pitt, Javier Bardem, Cameron Diaz and Bardem’s wife in real life, Penelope Cruz, who plays Fassbender’s sweet fiancee. The movie opens with a sex scene between Fassbender and Cruz under the glaring brightness of a white sheet, portraying the innocence of a young couple in love.

The counselor runs with a crowd of very wealthy people, so wealthy that Diaz’s Malkina rides her horse on the vast expanses of a ranch along with her two cheetahs. They are damaged characters who have likely created wealth out of illicit means.

“The Counselor” is one of two Fassbender films playing this fall. He also stars in the slavery tale “12 Years a Slave,” as a brutal plantation owner, a role that could earn him a best supporting actor Oscar nomination. The film is his second collaboration with director Ridley Scott, after they made the sci-fi action thriller “Prometheus” in 2012.

Fassbender describes the counselor as a “passenger character” - one heavily influenced by those around him rather than one who drives his life decisions. He, however, thinks he is driving.

With a nice house and car and the desire to give his wife-to-be material wealth, the counselor turns to one drug deal with his friends to finance the life he wants to have. The deal begins to go bad and the cartel behind it takes down the group, one by one. As the violence gets more extreme and the counselor finds himself becoming trapped, questions still arise about how he got to this point and what has happened to his associates and friends.

Fassbender thinks audiences are up for the task of filling in the gaps.

“I think their imagination and perception will be more interesting than what you can show them,” he said. “As much as you can mix that up and leave those blanks, I think that is more effective.”

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