Director: Ridley Scott
Screenplay: Cormac McCarthy
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt, Cameron Diaz, Penelope Cruz, Bruno Ganz, Rosie Perez, Toby Kebbell, Ruben Blades, Natalie Dormer, Dean Norris, Edgar Ramirez, Goran Visnjic, Sam Spruell, Richard Cabral, John Leguizamo.
“You are at a cross in the road and here you think to choose. But here there is no choosing. There is only accepting. The choosing was done long ago“.
Being a huge fan of Pulitzer-Prize winning novelist Cormac McCarthy, Ridley Scott was originally planning to adapt his controversial 1985 novel “Blood Meridian” before the project eventually fell through. Scott, however, was given another chance when McCarthy wrote his first ever original screenplay in the mould of “The Counselor“. Circling it for a short time, Scott eventually took the reigns and drafted in a star studded cast which led it to be one of the most anticipated movies of 2013. When it finally reached the public-eye, though, it was met with such a vehement backlash that I actually steered clear of it… until now.
Deeply in love with his fiancée Laura (Penelope Cruz), The Counselor (Michael Fassbender) aims to provide a high standard of living for her. To do so, he enters into a one-time deal with dangerous drug dealer Reiner (Javier Bardem), his sociopathic girlfriend Malkina (Cameron Diaz) and middle-man Westray (Brad Pitt). Despite several warnings about the severe consequences of dealing with the Mexican cartel, The Counselor foolishly decides to go ahead anyway.
“Inert“, “directionless“, “disjointed“, “misjudged” – these are just a few of the adjectives that I came across when “The Counselor” was released to mass disappointment. As a result, I went into it with very heavy reservations. If truth be told, I was preparing to write a scathing review where I could really pick out the flaws and expose them for all their ludicrousness. Much to my surprise then, that after 20 mins I found myself with nothing to criticise and, if anything, I started to find my feet in this elaborate thriller and found myself enjoying it more and more with every passing minute. It became apparent that this isn’t a film that’s “misjudged“, this is a film that has received a very misjudged marketing campaign. It’s not the fast paced, slick crime thriller that many were expecting but more of a deliberate and philosophical parable about the nature of greed and the rippling effect of immoral decisions.
A lot has been said about McCarthy’s first ever screenplay and his unconventional method. Many have claimed it to be deliberately cryptic and indecipherable. Admittedly, at times, it can be but the real key to understanding the film is breaking through our preconceived ideas of how dialogue should be delivered. The answers are there, they just need that extra concentration and willingness to find them. Some lengthy monologues do keep the audience at a particular arms length and it can be difficult to break through their very dense and metaphoric meanings but I managed to play along and actually found the film to be richly rewarding.
It looks fantastic, with wonderful picturesque locations and even though the characters are lavish and colourful, this is still a very believable and foreboding criminal underworld. Scott shows a confident handling of the material and the acting ensemble all seem fully committed to McCarthy’s abstract and idiosyncratic prose. I didn’t get the impression that they felt strained or unsure of what they were involved in here and that’s primarily what makes the film work. Each of their characters are convincing and they all deliver solid performances.
That being said, this is not a film that will appeal to everyone and it’s entirely understandable why it hasn’t been kindly received. Very little is explained; there’s no backstory or linear conclusion and even Fassbender’s Counselor is never revealed by name. In fact, those that were critical of the underwhelming epilogue of the Coen brothers’ adaptation of McCarthy’s “No Country For Old Men” in 2007 will likely be frustrated with “The Counselor” in it’s entirety. The whole film operates on that suggestive level. It’s a bold and daring move but one that I find respects the audience’s ability to read into events and possibilities.
Having been disappointed in a lot of Ridley’s Scott’s recent films, I was expecting more of the same here. Far from it, though. This is a highly underrated neo-noir that’s one of Scott’s best efforts for some time and McCarthy constructs a transcendent, almost Shakespearean, tragedy. It only leaves me with hope that this won’t be the last time he writes a screenplay – despite it’s much maligned reception.
Trivia: Natalie Portman was considered for the role of Laura before Penelope Cruz and Angelina Jolie was originally cast as Malkina before dropping out and being replaced by Cameron Diaz.