‘The Counselor’: Cormac McCarthy’s script stumbles, critics say
The role: Dr. Ryan Stone, the beginner astronaut suddenly stuck in space when her space shuttle is damaged, and her thirst for life deepened.
The final pick: Sandra Bullock. Jolie was set to star alongside Robert Downey Jr. But Jolie’s management team wasn’t able to come to an agreement with Warner Bros.
The movie: “The Matrix” series
The role: Neo, a superhuman with the power to perform every single martial art and fighting style.
The final pick: Keanu Reeves. Smith passed on the role because he couldn’t envision the concept of “The Matrix.” Looking back, Smith said he wouldn’t have been “smart” enough to play the role at the time. He later starred in the sci-fi action film “I, Robot.”(Melinda Sue Gordon / Warner Bros.; Jamie McCarthy / Getty Images for MTV)
The role: Bella Swan, a teenager turned vampire with the skill to shield herself and others from mental harm. All the while, she’s madly in love with mind-reading vampire Edward Cullen.
The final pick: Kristen Stewart. Lawrence later landed the role of Katniss Everdeen in the equally popular series “The Hunger Games.”(Samir Hussein / Getty Images; Kimberley French)
The movie: “Michael Clayton”
The role: Michael Clayton, an attorney with a conscience, who breaks down the corruption surrounding a chemical scandal.
The final pick: George Clooney. To this day, Washington regrets turning down the role. “With ‘Clayton,’ it was the best material I had read in a long time, but I was nervous about a first-time director, and I was wrong,” Washington said.(Chris Pizzello / Invision / Associated Press; Myles Aronowitz)
The role: Forrest Gump, a not-so intelligent former military man set to tell the story of his life.
The final pick: Tom Hanks. Travolta simply turned down the role and later admitted his decision was a mistake. For Hanks, the role earned him an Oscar for best actor in 1994.(Francois Durand / Getty Images )
The role: Cher Horowitz, the wealthy Valley girl up for anything that involves fashion, makeovers and, like, boys.
The final pick: Alicia Silverstone. Gellar couldn’t commit due to scheduling conflicts.(Jordan Strauss / Invision / Associated Press; Paramount Pictures)
The role: Will Turner, an ace swordsman and budding pirate.
The final pick: Orlando Bloom. Law auditioned for the role to play Keira Knightley’s love interest, but was shoved aside for Bloom.(Jonathan Leibson / Getty Images; Peter Mountain / Disney Enterprises )
The role: Black Widow, a femme fatale formerly known as a Russian spy.
The final pick: Scarlett Johansson. Blunt passed on the role saying: “Usually the female parts in a superhero film feel thankless: She’s the pill girlfriend while the guys are whizzing around saving the world.”(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times; Zade Rosenthal / Marvel)
The role: Gandalf, a wizard and leader of the Fellowship of the Ring with great mental and physical power.
The final pick: Ian McKellen. Despite director Peter Jackson’s many attempts for Connery to play Gandalf -- he offered Connery $30 million on top of 15% of the film’s box office revenue -- Connery said he simply didn’t understand the story. During his audition read, Connery mistakenly referred to hobbits as bobbits.(Jason Szenes / EPA; New Line Productions)
The role: Vivian Ward, an assertive Hollywood Boulevard prostitute who finds love with a wealthy lawyer.
The final pick: Julia Roberts. Hannah rejected the role since she believed it was belittling to women. “They sold it as a romantic fairytale when in fact it’s a story about a prostitute who becomes a lady by being kept by a rich and powerful man,” Hannah said. Hannah, however, later portrayed a stripper in the drama “Dancing at the Blue Iguana.”(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times; Buena Vista / Getty Images)
The role: Spider-Man, the web-slinging, wall-crawling figure who has proved to be one of the most commercially successful superheroes.
The final pick: Tobey Maguire. A disappointed Prinze Jr. told late-night radio personality Howard Stern that he was originally cast as Spider-Man, but director Sam Raimi went with Maguire instead.(Ken Hively / Los Angeles Times; Merrick Morton / Columbia Pictures)
The role: Han Solo, a sarcastic yet compassionate hero who helps for the common good.
The final pick: Harrison Ford. Al Pacino dismissed the role, saying: “It was mine for the taking but I didn’t understand the script.” Pacino turned down the “Star Wars” series and later starred in the Godfather trilogy, but found it to be “a long, awful, tiring story.”(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times; Industrial Light & Magic)
The role: J.D., the money-stealing, good-looking thief who strikes up a romantic relationship with Thelma (Geena Davis), and ends up educating her on his holdup tactics.
The final pick: Brad Pitt. Clooney read with Davis several times, only to be booted for Pitt. Clooney admitted he didn’t see the movie for years, then decided to rent it one night and realized that Pitt was perfect for the role.(Brad Barket / Getty Images for Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; MGM)
The role: Scarlett O’Hara, a smart and charming woman searching high and low for love.
The final pick: Vivien Leigh. Davis turned down the role under the impression that Errol Flynn would play the part of Rhett Butler. (Clark Gable actually got the role.) Davis had refused to work with Flynn earlier, as their relationship off-screen was rocky. Davis even reportedly once slapped Flynn on the face.(Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times; Los Angeles Times Archives)
The role: James Bond, a British secret agent, with the code name 007.
The final pick: Sean Connery. Grant was 58 years old at the time of the audition and turned down the role because he was only interested in doing one Bond film.(Van Ness Films Inc.; Los Angeles Times Archives)
As his Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award attest, Cormac McCarthy has had plenty of success on the page, and several of his novels have also been adapted to the screen with good results, most notably “No Country for Old Men,” which won four Academy Awards. But McCarthy’s screenwriting debut, the new crime thriller “The Counselor,” seems to be another matter.
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 Michael Fassbender, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem and Brad Pitt — can salvage it.
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.”
The Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday calls the film “a sewage-soaked demimonde that is as confusing as it is spiritually compromised.” She adds, “Isn’t McCarthy — author of ‘No Country for Old Men’ and ‘The Road’ — supposed to be the master of macho toughness and spare stylistic control? You wouldn’t know it from this self-consciously nasty piece of borderland noir, in which his familiar tropes by now look hackneyed and pathetic.”
Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune declares the film “dull” in spite of all its firepower. “McCarthy’s story zigs and zags, but in slow motion. The character relationships lack the spark and juice of enjoyable trash. McCarthy’s dialogue suffers from an excess of capital-W Writing that doesn’t sound like speakable human expression, even flamboyant, proudly artificial human expression.”
The Wall Street Journal’s Joe Morgenstern says McCarthy’s screenwriting debut is “infelicitous, to say the least. In a film that dwells on decapitation and a ghastly gizmo that cuts carotid arteries before progressing to strangulation, the cast is all but suffocated by the sententious dialogue of an airless drama.” Ultimately, “What’s missing is dramatic subtext and surprise, as well as any playfulness that might have kept us guessing about the plot.”
Among the dissenting voices is the New York Times’ Manohla Dargis, who writes, “From all the ellipses, as well as the eccentric, mesmerizing poetry of his dialogue, Mr. McCarthy appears to have never read a screenwriting manual in his life. (That’s a compliment; this is his first produced film script.)” Scott, for his part, “manages all these swiftly spinning parts with impeccable control and a lucid visual style.”
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.”
From the Emmys to the Oscars.
Get our revamped Envelope newsletter, sent twice a week, for exclusive awards season coverage, behind-the-scenes insights and columnist Glenn Whipp’s commentary.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.