Synopsis: A successful lawyer gets in over his head when he decides to dabble in the drug trade.
Release Date: October 25, 2013 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Drama, Thriller
Ridley Scott’s latest film, The Counselor, is a hard one to pin down. The story, written by celebrated novelist Cormac McCarthy, is a complex, dense narrative that doesn’t spoon feed the audience, which is refreshing in this age of overly tedious exposition. But, at the same time, The Counselor is an overly clunky story, that trips over itself far too often, loses focus at pivotal moments, and might not have much to say when all is said and done. Or, it could just be the most brilliant story every put to film. A definitive consensus is unclear.
The general make-up of the story follows our titular counselor, played by Michael Fassbender (Shame), as he tries to make a little extra cash via some extra-legal means. He’s a man of good intentions who deals with people with less-enviable intentions, like his legal business partner Reiner (Javier Bardem), his illegal drug smuggling business partner Westray (Brad Pitt from World War Z), and Reiner’s certifiably insane girlfriend Malkina (Cameron Diaz of Bad Teacher).
The Counselor‘s story is a classic case of misunderstandings, wrapped within an extremely dense set of B and C plots which, if you’re not paying attention, might leave you easily lost. That’s part of the fun of The Counselor; it’s also one of its biggest flaws. McCarthy chooses to let the audience put the pieces together as they see fit – to understand how the counselor’s seemingly innocuous plans are quickly derailed – but he never gives any indication as to how the various moving parts come together. As a result, it’s hard to walk away from The Counselor feeling confident that McCarthy’s script truly accomplishes what it set out to do. At the same time, a familiarity with McCarthy’s previously published work, like “No Country for Old Men” and “The Road“, suggests The Counselor unfolds exactly as intended.
Aside from McCarthy’s story, The Counselor is an impeccable piece of filmmaking, choreographed by one of the top director’s in the business. Ridley Scott directs the film with an accomplished hand, knowing full well that McCarthy’s words will take precedent. He constructs the film in such a way that even though there are big gaps in the story beats it’s still not particularly hard to follow, at least on a basic level. As well, the cinematography by Dariusz Wolski is gorgeous. From Texas, to Mexico, to London, Wolski photographs each location with a vibrant color palette that truly captures a sense of place. The content may be lacking in a lot of his more recent work, but Scott’s still one of the best at making beautiful and well-structured films.
The Counselor has the possibility of leaving a viewer of two minds, and unsure how to reconcile either. On the one hand, McCarthy’s story presents a refreshing challenge with its elaborate narrative, but, at the same time, the film’s overly wordy, and oftentimes pointless musings on death, inevitability, and choice miss the mark, or are overwhelmed by their complex metaphors. While the acting and filmmaking in The Counselor are top notch, the success of the film lives and dies by its writing, which some will absolutely love and others will detest.
For a first time screenwriter like Cormac McCarthy, The Counselor, in and of itself, is impressive. The layers and nuance to the storytelling, the deft hand with which he crafts a complex narrative, and the almost poetic dialogue prove that McCarthy is a unique voice, but his approach more closely resembles a novel than a screenplay. And that will be an instant turn off to a lot of people.
You can imagine his prose working on the written page, but not in a thriller that should be razor tight. Far too often, the film loses its momentum as a random character spends several minutes relaying a story that has no bearing on the plot. Instead this obtuse monologues will leave audiences shifting in their seats, waiting for the film to get back on track. Not all will feel that way; some people will absolutely love McCarthy’s approach, because he does have a lot to say. But this story may have worked better as a novel than a screenplay.
In the simplest of terms, The Counselor is Cormac McCarthy being Cormac McCarthy, for better or worse. Enjoyment can be found deconstructing the plot and dissecting its meaning, but only as a whole. The individual parts, on the other hand, are less successful, and feel haphazardly added simply because McCarthy wanted yet another metaphor or theme to bolster the story. The Counselor makes you think, while watching and after, but that isn’t necessarily a good thing.
While Cormac McCarthy’s script tends to falter as it goes on, it is still a terrific showpiece for its actors. Ridley Scott has chosen wisely for every part, as the cast is exceptional from top to bottom. Each actor lets their role envelop them, be it a sex-obsessed sociopath, played by Cameron Diaz, or a willfully ignorant, but loving girlfriend for Penelope Cruz. Each cast member also helps breathe life to McCarthy’s words without making the film sound like a series of monologues, even though that’s what a large portion of The Counselor contains. The actors embrace the McCarthy-ness of The Counselor and make the best of it.
The two true standout performances in The Counselor are from Michael Fassbender and Javier Bardem. Bardem plays Reiner with the same type of aplomb that he did Anton Chigurh in No Country For Old Men or Silva from Skyfall. He knows these characters are supposed to be quirky, but he toes the line so well that you’re consistently fascinated by his performance.
Michael Fassbender, on the other hand, brings a tremendous amount of emotion to his role as the counselor. This is a guy who knew the stakes going in, but is no less devastated when things go awry. He plays a broken man with so much intensity that his performance alone might make the film worth recommending.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Ridley Scott
- Screenwriter(s): Cormac McCarthy
- Cast: Michael Fassbender (Counselor)Penelope Cruz (Laura)Cameron Diaz (Malkina) Javier Bardem (Reiner)Brad Pitt (Westray)
- Editor(s): Pietro Scalia
- Cinematographer: Dariusz Wolski
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score: Daniel Pemberton
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA