Michael Fassbender: Breakout Star or Just Another Talented Hunk?

Michael Fassbender in The Counselor. (Chockstone Pictures)

Michael Fassbender in The Counselor. (Chockstone Pictures)

The drawing power of Michael Fassbender, the German-Irish actor who has been getting the big build-up in recent years, is being put to the test this weekend with the opening in the U.S. of The Counselor. This is his chance to live up to the cover billing alongside his picture on the front of the current issue of GQ: “The Leading Man Hollywood’s Been Waiting For.”

Portraying a Texas lawyer who tries to pull off a major drug deal, Fassbender has the title role in The Counselor. The R-rated, violent crime thriller (which includes two beheadings) was booked for 3,000-plus screens.

Fassbender isn’t up there all alone on the big screen. His glittery costars include Brad Pitt, Javier Bardem, Cameron Diaz and Penélope Cruz. Adding to the film’s impeccable pedigree, the director is Englishman Ridley Scott (Thelma & Louise) and the screenwriter is novelist Cormac McCarthy (No Country For Old Men).

Despite all that star power, early critical reception for the film has been mostly negative. As of late Friday, the film was scoring only 37 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, the review aggregating site. Worse, when narrowed down to critics representing elite papers and websites, the film’s score dropped to a pathetic 22 percent.

Typical was the viewpoint of critic Todd McCarthy, who wrote in the Hollywood Reporter, “Despite its scaldingly hot cast and formidable writer/director combination, The Counselor is simply not a very likable or gratifying film. In fact, it’s a bummer.” The Wall Street Journal’s Joe Morgenstern wrote, “The most likable characters in The Counselor are a pair of cheetahs. They may be animal or they may be digital, but they stand out from everyone else because they don’t moralize, philosophize or dispense epigrams. They have spots but no lines, and that’s a blessing in this deep-dyed downer ….”

The only major critic to embrace the movie was the New York Times’ Manohla Dargis, who praised it for what she called its “terrifying, implacable” darkness and Scott for his “impeccable control and a lucid visual style.”

Most reviews didn’t say much about Fassbender either good or bad, though the Chicago Tribune’s Michael Phillips grumbled that the actor’s “twang carried a touch of the Old Sod.”
 
Hollywood will be watching how Counselor performs at the box office as an indication of whether Fassbender, who lives in London when he’s not on location, has finally arrived as a full-blown movie star. Expectations are low, however, because early tracking showed most moviegoers either didn’t know about the film or, if they did, weren’t planning to see it.
 
Fassbender’s earlier big-budget studio efforts, 2011’s X-Men: First Class and last year’s Prometheus (which was also directed by Scott), grossed $354 million and $403 million worldwide respectively.
 
Even if Counselor ends up tanking at the box office, no need to worry too much about Fassbender’s future career prospects. He has already shot a sequel to X-Men, due next year, and is likely to appear in a planned Prometheus 2.
 
In the immediate future, he can expect to stride the red carpet at awards time. His performance as a racist Southern plantation owner in 12 Years a Slave, which opened in limited release last weekend and goes wider on Nov. 1, has been drawing raves. Speculative stories about the Oscar and other awards races all list him as a shoo-in for a Best Supporting Actor nomination.
 
Do you want to see The Counselor?

See More:
WATCH: Michael Fassbender Stars in ‘The Counselor’ Trailer
Michael Fassbender is on the Market
Brit Binge Watching: Five British Indie Movies You Can View Online