According to film critics, McCarthy's original screenplay is by turns stilted, gruesome and alienating, and neither director Ridley Scott nor his all-star cast — including
The Times' Kenneth Turan writes, "As cold, precise and soulless as the diamonds that figure briefly in its plot, 'The Counselor' is an extremely unpleasant piece of business." Though the film is "ably directed" and the cast is impressive, "everyone here is the prisoner of 'The Counselor's' clumsy puppet master, screenwriter Cormac McCarthy … who's apparently been eager to write directly for the screen for some time but should have stifled the impulse."
McCarthy's script, about a lawyer (Fassbender) who gets mixed up in drug trafficking, is "terminally bleak," "entranced with its pseudo-mythic qualities" and "so predetermined there is little point in seeing it through to the end." Compounding the problem, "McCarthy's famously enigmatic dialogue turns out to work better on the page than on the screen."
Variety's Peter Debruge similarly says, "Whatever his strengths in print, McCarthy clearly doesn't understand how drama and suspense work onscreen, pouring most of his efforts into crafting impenetrably baroque conversations between loosely sketched stereotypes, wrongheadedly convinced that confusion and a growing sense of dread are sufficient to keep us riveted."
Michael Phillips of the
Among the dissenting voices is the
She adds, "Mr. Scott's seriousness isn't always well served by the scripts he films, but in Mr. McCarthy he has found a partner with convictions about good and evil rather than canned formula."