If there’s something remarkably unique to be said about “The Counsellor,” it’s that the creation of said film brought to fruition an immensely sought-after joint-venture (a ballsy one at that) between director Ridley Scott and writer Cormac McCarthy. Now, you might be thinking that this statement can be applied to any film written and directed by separate individuals, especially when considering how many filmmaking tandems exist already, regardless if it be in reality or cinephiles fantasies, and you’d be somewhat right. That being said however, it feels as if this time around the minds behind this collaboration are much greater than any previously attempted high-profile partnership in cinema. Don’t believe me? See McCarthy and Scott’s illustrious track-records, they speak for themselves. Very rarely are we treated to a collusion of such magnitude. Two of the great artistic minds working today in cahoots to spawn the visual manifestation and absorption of a compacted novel to unleash upon us…what could be better, right?
Nonetheless, as much as we, the cinephiles, research, obsess, predict, and conclude, we can never pinpoint the exact product that will be presented before us on release day…that just happens to be the beauty of inspiration, imagination, and creation. Sadly though, judging by the harsh negativity and criticism, it seems as if “The Counsellor” wasn’t what most critics and film lovers were expecting, even in the most general sense. Did the genius of Scott and McCarthy unfortunately allow for fanatics to set the bar unreachably high? Was McCarthy’s transition into screenwriting premature? Has Scott lost his touch behind the camera? Since I’ve seen it, I’ve debated endlessly about what exactly the root of this onslaught against “The Counsellor” is. Why has it let so many viewers down? Well, I’d love to tell you, unfortunately however, I’m not apart of the former camp. I rather enjoyed “The Counselor.” It might not be everything I anticipated, but it’s damn close. I see no fault to the extreme degree to warrant the way in which critics and film lovers everywhere are destroying “The Counsellor.”
Let’s begin with McCarthy’s responsibilities in the film, story and dialogue. The most prominent and seemingly universal complaint about “The Counsellor” is the thick, complicated interactions that some go as far as to deem wordy to a point of illogicality and misunderstanding. Now, what’s most disconcerting about this accusation is that I perfectly understood the narrative and back-and-forths. So either the general public is insane, or I am. Not to be pretentious, but the reason for this might be my education in english, literature, and writing. Nevertheless, McCarthy’s talent certainly didn’t falter in the transition from literature to screenwriting. He’s kept the lyrical way about him and transfered the typical beauty he infuses into gloom and destruction. Granted, the dialogue is dense, almost unbearable heavy. Yet, it’s also hypnotically descriptive, serene in its own way.
The author of a few novels adapted to the big screen such as “The Road” and “No Country for Old Men.” McCarthy certainly knows his way around captivation and how to construct a meaningful story…”The Counsellor” is no different. Keeping his wits about him, McCarthy continues to utilize traits he’s mastered and best suited for his style. I mean, the story’s complex, sexy, violent, and intelligent, what else could you ask for? What’s that? Not good enough? Want even more? Fine McCarthy says and adds a pitch-black layer of comedy to this already stellar tale. Honestly, Cameron Diaz literally has sex with a car, I can’t make this much clearer. Even if all these cool facets aren’t right up your alley, the love and passion infused into each character is astonishing. It creates such a stunning contrast of humanity, vulnerability, and ruthlessness. I think its safe to say that McCarthy held up his end of the responsibilities.
As for Ridley Scott, director of classic masterpieces such as “Alien” and “Blade Runner” and more recently academy award winner “Gladiator” and the tragically underrated “Matchstick Men,” once again triumphs. Scott is one of the most revered and talented filmmakers in cinema history, so any outing he is attached to, no matter how discredited, has some form of merit. “The Counsellor,” as it is for McCarthy, is no hamper on his storied career. Watching Scott’s work behind the camera here is nothing short of astounding, yet it baffles me. Every angle, every movement, every shot is impeccable. What’s even further proof of his prowess is his ability to digest and regurgitate the complex, dramatic, diabolical, even obscure moments of “The Counsellor.” If ever there was a question regarding Scott’s abilities, “The Counsellor” put those worries to rest.
So, Scott and McCarthy weren’t enough to draw you into the theatre to see “The Counselor?” How about an A-list cast that features Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Cameron Diaz, Penelope Cruz, and Javier Bardem? That get your attention? Mmhmm…I thought it might.
First off, let me clarify for the fangirls, Pitt is a supporting player in this flick, not the star. So don’t go getting your panties in a bunch when Fassbender handles the spotlight. Don’t get me wrong, Pitt is fascinating here and if you’re a fan of his work as much as I am, “The Counsellor” is a must see. As for the aforementioned Fassbender, I feel as if any praise I give will just be me repeating myself. His performance here might not compare to what is soon to be his Oscar winning performance in “12 Years a Slave,” but is superlative nonetheless. In my honest opinion, Bardem’s the one who steals the show. Everything from his questionable attire, erratic hairstyle, and emotional vulnerability is bewildering. He’s funny, honest, and devilishly persuasive. Overall, it’s an intoxicatingly memorable performance. To my surprise, Diaz garners the most screen time outside of Fassbender and utilizes every second. I’m not usually a fan of her work, so when I give her any credit, you know its deserved. Finally Cruz, who rarely makes an appearance in the film, is without question the most seductive and earnest. Still, would have been nice to see her in a larger role.
Look…the film isn’t perfect, rarely is a film ever. “The Counsellor” suffers from time to time because its clever, intricate plot is muffled by subtlety and McCarthy’s dialect camouflage. It’s occasionally over-the-top (Diaz dry-humping a car) and a tad cliched. Yet, these minor imperfections and tiny, superficial errors are mere peanuts compared to the film’s successes. It’s extremely difficult to attract, debrief, and attach so many talented minds, and even harder to enact on a singular wavelength.