Going into Ridley Scott’s drug-trade drama “The Counselor,” you’ve got a certain expectation that this could be the director delivering another of the stylish, comparatively minor-note offerings interspersed among the genre biggies over the course of his career. Not “Alien” or “Gladiator” or “Prometheus,” but a rewarding breather like the con yarn “Matchstick Men,” albeit one with an all-star cast. But with its jangly (and nerve-jangling) vibe, and the dramatically elliptical cool of its Cormac McCarthy script (the celebrated octogenarian author’s first foray into screenwriting), the film is actually quite a bit more than that. This one has more in common with Scott’s “Thelma & Louise” in the memorable way it escalates, inevitably but also unexpectedly, into a spin through wilder country, and a meditation on bigger themes.
Michael Fassbender plays the eponymous protagonist — in a literal sense, as “Counselor” is all anyone calls him as he plies his slick criminal-defense trade around greater El Paso. It seems Fassbender has channeled his “Shame” persona’s hypersexuality into something healthier, as we glean from pillow talk he shares with girlfriend Penelope Cruz, in a crazily sensual opener that toys with leaving them completely concealed under sheets. (Just in time for Halloween, a “sexy ghost” costume as a fresh alternative to “sexy witch”?)