Damn, I wanted to like this film so much! I'm not a fan of Ridley Scott's work, but I know he can do some good stuff, but given that this was scripted by Cormac McCarthy and the genre is trashy hardboiled crime I was more than thrilled when I walked in the movie theater.
Damn, it sucked.
The Counselor has lots of good moments and some nice action scenes, but there are also lots of problems. First, the plot. Mind you, I'm a fan of ellipsis. I can love the way how not everything is explained or is explained a lot later after the incident has already taken place. McCarthy as the sole writer of the film - what, no script doctors here? should've been! - uses the ellipsis clumsily and makes the film seem more awkward than it really is.
Second, the dialogue. McCarthy's dialogue works very well on paper. It works well on big screen, if it's been rewritten by real screenwriters. Take a look at No Country for Old Men or The Road. The Counselor tries to tread the same ground, but gets stuck in long monologues that have no meaning plot-wise or stupid repeating of small phrases like "What?" or "Huh?" Some of the scenes are better in this sense, however, for example the first meeting of Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender.
Third, McCarthy writes women like shit. The character of Penélope Cruz is totally meaningless. She's an empty pawn with nothing to do. Cameron Diaz is somewhat better, but she's also over-written to the extent she becomes, like Cruz, a pawn. She has no life of her own, even though that purports to be the film's focus. The men of the film are more convincing.
Fourth, how can someone like McCarthy be so demure? He writes convincingly about killing, slaying, maiming, torturing and exploiting other people, but talking about sex and giving us good sex scenes between two people - or even people talking about sex - seems to be overwhelming for him. Probably he shouldn't try it anymore and stick with killing.
If you want to have some crime fiction about Mexican drug trafficking, try Don Winslow's Savages and The Power of the Dog. Or Sam Hawken's quiet and hypnotic Juaréz Dance.