Ridley Scott is hailed as one of the finer working directors and his efforts have even earned him an Oscar. Cormac McCarthy is a Pulitzer Prize novelist who has written some of the greatest books in recent years. One of his books, No Country For Old Men, was even adapted into an Oscar winning film. Now, picture the two teaming up as a director and writer and then add a stellar cast, and you’ve got one hell of a film about the life in drug trafficking.
The Counselor (Michael Fassbender) is a well off man. He has a wonderful girlfriend in Laura (Penelope Cruz) and he makes quite a bit of money, too. Despite having all he could need, greed overcomes the counselor and he decides to invest in a drug trafficking operation with his odd friend, Reiner (Javier Bardem). As Reiner get the counselor more involved in the process, he opens up about the pros and cons of the business and discusses his love for his girlfriend, Malkina (Cameron Diaz). As the two swap scary and funny stories, the drug operation is shown, parallel to the present day story of the counselor.
The cocaine that is being dealt is stored in a septic truck that has caught the eye of the local cartels down in Juarez. As the truck nears its destination, something goes awry and the truck is apprehended by the wrong people. Now, the counselor is to blame and his friend and confidant, Westray (Brad Pitt), is giving him advice on how to disappear. As stories intertwine and truths of the world and the business are revealed, the curtain is pulled and the audience watches as horrific and intriguing events unfold.
My first thought after I finished watching The Counselor, was “Damn, can Cormac McCarthy write, or what?” Despite this being his first screenplay, old and familiar beats from McCarthy are present in the film as well as new ones too. The film is set in El Paso, Texas and the setting plays a hand in the story. The dialog between the characters is nothing short of amazing and the metaphorical subtext in the film is outstanding. It’s no wonder why this man won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. His creative mind will take you completely by surprise and you’ll laugh, cry, and be horrified at what you see and hear.
I loved the characters in this film. Not only are they well written, but they also resemble ideals in real life. The Counselor himself is motivated by greed and the want to give his fiancé every luxury in the world. Laura is filled with emotion and is concerned for her fiancés safety. Reiner is obscure and lives a quirky lifestyle. Malinka is secretive, seductive and salacious, which can be good or bad. Westray is the middle man who knows how the world works and knows when to call and when to fold. Diaz and Cruz really handle their characters well and their performances remind us of why they’re considered great actresses. Bardem is the polar opposite of his character Anton Chigurh in No Country For Old Men and more like his villain in Skyfall. Pitt and Fassbender also deliver great performances as more susceptible characters. All around, the acting is solid.
As far as direction is concerned, I think that this film was an interesting choice for Rildey Scott. That’s not to say the direction is bad, but it definitely has its issues. For one, the editing is all over the place and ends up taking you out of the film. The jumping back and forth between the two stories is done very poorly and abruptly cuts off one or the other. The camera shots are questionable, as most seem shaky and are done in poor lighting. I also think that Scott and this script don’t have much in common, given his body of work. I liked the movie, but I can’t help but wonder what it would be like if the Coen’s had directed it.
While at first, I wasn’t entirely satisfied with The Counselor’s story, after further thought, I found myself liking it very much. McCarthy’s stories often have you believing that they’re about a certain person or theme, but then you discover that everything is not what it seems. His stories also don’t include climactic endings, but rather meaningful and metaphorical ones. Some audiences will respond really well to this film, but I’m sure that many won’t. That being said, you will want to pay attention to the dialog and search for a deeper meaning within the film.
Possibly the most curious thing about The Counselor is that, early on in the year, this film was generating some Oscar buzz. People had Cameron Diaz on their lists for Best Actress and there was thought that this film could be nominated for Best Picture. Unfortunately, this film didn’t screen at any film festivals and was first seen only three days. Was it so bad that they decided that they didn’t want to screen it early? No. I do think that after final edits had been made, that the team behind the film realized that it wasn’t going to win any Oscars. So, they hushed up about the film and only recently began advertising it. It’s a pretty good film, but it doesn’t scream Oscar-worthy to me, so it was a wise choice not to screen it any earlier.
For me, this film solidified all my thoughts on McCarthy and his abilities, and also exemplified the incredible talents of the lead actors. The dialog and characters are what make this film so good. The story is somewhat loose and reveals too much early on, but it’s not bothersome enough to make you dislike the film. I would suggest that you go into this film with an open mind and expect to see/hear the unexpected. If you do so, I think that you’ll enjoy this film!
The Counselor Trailer