ScreeningNotes’s review published on Letterboxd:
There's something really unique about this movie. Almost every single scene is a simple conversation between two people, and that style really struck me as something I hadn't seen before. There are also no artificial expository characters or dialogue which gives the world a genuine feeling and keeps you in the dark about the inner workings of the plot. There are themes of innocence, corruption, greed, sexuality, and more. There's a lot here to like, I just personally didn't like any of it.
I thought the dialogue was absolutely awful. The first scene is especially drawn out in this respect, but throughout the rest of the movie there's no nuance to any of the conversations. It's like Cormac McCarthy wrote a list of the themes he wanted the movie to discuss and then lacked the patience to plant them in the soil and let them grow. Instead the themes float on the surface of the screen like fish playing dead hoping an interested fisherman will walk by.
I don't think I've ever seen a movie which so thoroughly failed to tell its audience what it was about. You can make guesses as you go along and by the end there's no mistaking what happened, but there's a fine line between telling your audience enough to keep them interested and holding back enough to keep the plot a mystery and this is on the far side of nothingness. Narrative tension is predicated around knowing the respective motivations of your protagonist and antagonist and watching them clash, and we don't even know who or what the counselor is up against until the movie's already over. Mystery is one thing, but if you want me to be interested or excited about your movie you have to tell me what's happening in it.
It's painfully obvious this was written by someone with no experience writing for the screen because there are exactly two types of scenes: one-on-one dialogue and character deaths. The film moves ponderously from one poorly-defined set to another with nothing to connect them but the characters on screen and nothing surrounding them but a faceless drug cartel. There's a painful, overwhelming absence of anything resembling a unifying thread to tie events together. The world of the movie feels unique because it doesn't exist.
Looking at the movie's poster while I write this, I want to like it. I want there to be a reason for me to rewatch it and say, "Hey, you know what? I was wrong about The Counselor." I can tell there's some good stuff here buried beneath the rubble, but every time I look back at the wreckage I'm too disgusted by its stench to start digging. Someone will excavate the gems from this muddled and monotonous mess, but it won't be me. If I sit through the opening dialogue again I might lose my mind.
EDIT: Sardonic Plot Summary!
Counselor talks to Laura. Reiner talks to Malkina. Counselor talks to Diamond Dealer. Malkina talks to Reiner. Counselor talks to Reiner. Counselor talks to Laura. Malkina talks to Laura. Reiner talks to Counselor. Counselor talks to Westray. Counselor talks to Ruth. Reiner talks to Counselor. Tony talks to Counselor. Malkina talks to Priest. Counselor talks to Laura. Reiner talks to Counselor. Laura talks to Malkina. Westray talks to Counselor. Counselor talks to Reiner. Counselor talks to Laura. Malkina talks to Reiner. Counselor talks to Westray. Counselor talks to Waiter. Counselor talks to Abogado. Buyer talks to Randy. Counselor talks to Pool Table Man. Westray talks to Blonde. Counselore talks to Cafe Man. Malkina talks to Blonde. Malkina talks to Banker. Roll credits.
DOUBLE EDIT: Turns out I watched the extended version for whatever that's worth. Maybe the 20 minutes cut out for the theatrical version would've made it a little less painful for me.