"The Counselor" is a slick, grim drug trafficking movie about awful people doing awful things in the most glamorous of settings.
And the movie is very upfront about just how awful.
"You may think there are things that these people are simply incapable of, but there are not."
"I'll try and remember that."
Brad Pitt, a drug-world middleman, warns Michael Fassbender, a significantly less rich lawyer who has clients deeply involved in the drug world.
Time and time again, "The Counselor" warns us, sometimes in great detail, about how bad things could get for its characters. And then it dutifully has those very bad things happen. When, for instance, a drug kingpin tells his lawyer about a "bolito," a motorized wire necklace that slowly but inevitably decapitates its victim, you can be sure you'll see the horrible device in action before the credits roll.
Luckily, lots of the other horrible stuff we've been warned about happens off camera, but the idea of it has been so well-planted in our minds that it feels like we've seen it even if we've only imagined it.
What distinguishes all this violence and implied violence from, say, your run of the mill "Saw" sequel, is the high-end setting and the high-end cast. Since most of the characters are rich as Midas, the film is full of sleek interiors, post-modern architecture, and killer views. And the well-dressed cast are all A-listers: Brad Pitt, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, and Michael Fassbender.
These admittedly beautiful people are a mostly amoral crowd, so when awful things start happening to them, it's hard to feel much empathy. We may identify with their desperation, but that's about it.
After all, they had plenty of warnings about the dangers.