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With three of his novels being adapted into critically acclaimed films,
Cormac McCarthy has opted to try his hand at screen writing, and the
fruits of his labor can be seen in The Counselor. Directed by Ridley
Scott, the film stars Michael Fassbender as a high-priced lawyer who
decides to dabble in something a bit less than legal in order to make
some extra cash.
Against the advice of associates Reiner (Javier Bardem) and Westray (Brad Pitt), The Counselor (whose name is never mentioned) has somehow gotten himself involved in the drug trafficking business, although the film remains ambiguous about the specifics. Motivated by the love of a beautiful woman (Penelope Cruz) and the desire to maintain the lifestyle he's enjoyed for so long, he never takes into account the sort of consequences he may be subjected to, should things not go according to plan.
As the trailers for the film make abundantly clear, things do not, in fact, go according to plan - at least, that's what we're led to believe, since the details of The Counselor's involvement in said plan are never actually revealed. Despite being warned about this scenario from the very beginning, by nearly every other character in the film, The Counselor remains inexplicably shocked and stunned when things begin to unravel.
Ridley Scott's latest directorial effort is peppered with lengthy scenes that find The Counselor engaged in conversations with other characters as they try to impart kernels of wisdom, truth and philosophy. Unfortunately, first-time screenwriter McCarthy fails to realize that he's not writing a novel here. Despite the brilliance of his literary works, he doesn't take into account the fact that living, breathing people rarely speak in monologues, and there's scarcely an ounce of naturally delivered dialogue in any of these exchanges.
Indeed, if you watch closely you can actually see the actors struggling to wrap their heads (and mouths) around these complex conversations that are surely meant to sound intelligent, but come across as anything but. It's hard to find fault with the talented cast, but when working with such messy material, it's difficult to be at the top of your game.
Despite the script's shortcomings, The Counselor provides enough intrigue to keep things moving along for about 90 minutes or so. The problem, of course, is that the film grinds to a complete and utter halt with another half hour still left in the tank, and the final 30 minutes is some of the most excruciatingly boring cinema I've seen this year. It's a frustrating and befuddling experience, and I left the theater wondering exactly what the hell had happened, both in front of the camera and behind it.
-- Brent Hankins, www.nerdrep.com
Normally, I fully appreciate bleak films with utterly despicable
characters that leave you thinking rather than leaving the theater with
a smile on your face, joyous to the fact that the hero saved the day
yet again. Sorry, that's not my kind of story as overdone as it is. I
prefer brutal realism where humanity is depicted in a much less phony
manner. That's exactly what The Counselor promises as its characters
take fairly regrettable paths- flawed people that make mistakes in a
criminal environment. Some are more oblivious to it (or outright
merciless), and some are much more humane in their methods. At first
glance, it seems as if it's impossible for The Counselor to be proved a
disappointment from the looks of its amazing cast (the likes of Michael
Fassbender, Javier Bardem, Cameron Diaz, Brad Pitt, and Penelope Cruz),
exceptional director with a credible resume, and a totally prestigious
author signed on for his first screenplay. In addition, it appears to
be a crime thriller, which definitely commences my adrenaline rush
because it's personally my favorite genre.
Unfortunately, this film is a perfect example of "don't judge a book by its cover" (whether positively or negatively; people just love positivism so they usually associate the idiom with negativism). To simply put it, the story is a complete mess right from the start. We have our main character who goes by "Counselor" (played by one of my favorites, Michael Fassbender) confusingly dropped into this situation. How did he end up in this predicament? Why did he choose to pursue such a perilous and illicit path? Basically, the movie never explains anything. You're left in wonderment, attempting to figure out who is on whose side. Who wants to kill them exactly? Characters end up in random places, and the story never even bothers to explain how the two characters even know each other. The script just conveniently places two movie stars in one scene without an effectively developed context to service it. What follows are countless scenes where characters engage in conversation, vaguely discussing the circumstances.
The dialogue also feels vastly strange because the characters don't talk like actual people do in reality. Their speech sounds quite literary as they spout metaphor after metaphor, coupled with complex vocabulary. With that being said, I had no issue with it at first. In that, I mean I held no issue with the style of speech. What I did have an issue with was the way the characters spoke in a way that fully befuddled the viewers. It's like only the characters are in on it the entire way without the audience's understanding. In essence, it makes for an inconvenient and confusing experience.
Speaking of the cast, Javier Bardem was really the only one that stood out to me. Frankly, Cameron Diaz had me bewildered. She's supposed to be from Barbados with an accent- See, I wasn't even sure whether she was sporting an accent or not. At times, it felt like she had an accent going on, and then in other moments, she was speaking fluent and clear English; so I have no idea what was going on there. Even then, the film could've easily hidden all these flaws by presenting us with a thrilling and suspenseful plot, but it actually turned out to be incredibly uneventful. The scope didn't feel as exciting as it was supposed to be, and it definitely wasted an incredible amount of potential. So yes, I'm absolutely saddened; this was one of my most anticipated films of this year, if not my most anticipated, and it ended up falling embarrassingly flat.
There were a few disturbingly violent scenes that boosted the film's tone, for lack of a better term, literally, and reminded us of the excellence of No Country for Old Men. You're also met with an outrageous sex scene that's equally disturbing and sexy for some, and those scenes might be the only snippets of The Counselor remembered down the road. The ending was also not very reassuring, cutting to the credits unexpectedly shortly after another monotonous and ambiguous conversation. The only decent element of this movie was its soundtrack, but then again, its quality could've just been determined in comparison to the oddity and nuisance that the rest of the film consisted of. In sum, the best way to describe The Counselor is "brutally unsatisfying." I felt no sense of satisfaction by the time it drew to a close, and everything simply felt so meaningless and forgettable. There's no question that it left a bad taste in my mouth, and I sincerely hope that Ridley Scott ups his game sometime soon.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
If you believe that the test of a film is the use it made if the talent available, then The Counsellor is sure to be among this (or any other) year's worst movies. After getting his fair share of praise and love (justifiably so) for his achievements as a novelist, Cormac McCarthy's first-ever film script is laughably bad and a total embarrassment. I'm no youngster but anyone who thinks that a novelist can START writing screenplays at 80 needs to think again. I was overwhelmed by the lack of structure, incoherence of plot and sheer pomposity of the characters. Who knew that murderers from the drug cartels ruminate on philosophical aspects of life an death, morals and consequence? In any event, time for director Ridley Scott to start thinking about new horizons as well. Every single episode of his TV produced series "Numbers" was better than this film. What's left after a terrible script and a bad director---bad acting! Everyone involved, including many award winning and nominated actors gives a career worst performance. I was really angry during the movie and became angrier when I thought about the sheer waste of so much talent. Since I dislike reviewers who give movies a "1, I'm going with a "2" but only because Cameron Diaz made love to a Ferrari. I ain't kidding.
Was so very reluctant to go see this due to the amount of extremely
negative reviews, glad I didn't listen.
Like all of you I was drawn to the writer, director & cast combination which told me this film had a chance at greatness, well I'm not so sure about greatness but this is a very good movie, one which both my wife and I thoroughly enjoyed.
The plot is secondary, only the story outline is necessary ("honest citizen" buys into a onetime drug deal which goes bad and there are serious consequences) to act as a framework around the events that unfold. We do not need details of who, what , where or when regarding the drug deal, we only need to see the greed and the evil it leads to, play out.
Yes the dialogue is metaphorical, gloriously so, and the actors deliver this as it was intended to be delivered by the writer and the director. This dialogue is superb in setting the ominous tone for the film, we do not need to know who is picking up what and delivering to whom, we only need to know that it didn't happen and somebody has to pay, pay a price beyond imagining! While there are moments of amusement, it is a deadly serious morality tale that does not play out to our long established preconceptions. Decisions today can make for impossible decisions and terrifying consequences tomorrow.
Do not judge, rate or review this film within the traditional confines of typical Hollywood movies, as it barely applies, maybe it does to the star power but not to the content nor the execution.
I really cannot wait to see this movie again, I give this an 8/10.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
When the names Ridley Scott and Cormac McCarthy are connected to a
project, one can't help but visualize the noir visual poetry of Scott's
Blade Runner and think of the harsh, grim storytelling excellence of
Cormac McCarthy. Unfortunately their project, The Counselor, lacks all
of the wonder that has gained them respect in the film industry.
The story, the first original screenplay written by Cormac McCarthy, is meant to be didactic but instead comes off as a pedantic mess. It clomps where it should glide and leaves film-goers expecting more than they receive. The story is about a lawyer, The Counselor, who somehow (that is never explained), is brought into a drug deal of some kind (which is never clarified), to an extent that we aren't privy to. There is also a secondary tier of characters who The Counselor knows, many of whom are also involved in the drug deal yet we never learn why or how they're involved; not what I was expecting from a man heralded as the most important writer in the country. Add to the soggy script McCormack's usual lack of understanding about women, his fascination with unnatural sex and predictable, but not particularly interesting violence. There are dozens of nonsense plot turns and character inconsistencies. Long amounts of time are spent in developing characters that never appear to have any significance in the film. Wise men abound; there's a wise diamond expert, drug cartel lord, and a couple of un-identified wise men. Meanwhile, the only three women in the film are a whore, a personified animal and nun. There are a few other women to be seen; either dancing in bikinis or pouring coffee.
Whether it comes from the script or was added as an artistic touch from Scott, there is an infusion of grade school obvious symbolism throughout the film which is so blatantly obvious it borders on being offensive. The good guys live in completely white houses and the bad guys all drive black vehicles, that sort of thing. One of the many weaknesses of the film is the cartoon-like quality of the characters. It's difficult to determine if they were written that way or if it was an artistic decision on the part of Scott. Either way the experiment was a failure. While the cartoon effect can be used deftly in film, in this picture it creates one more bruise on an all around achingly painful film.
Occasionally a disastrous script can still work on some level if there are exceptional performances. Unfortunately the two leads, Michael Fassbender and Cameron Diaz, are the weakest links in the picture. Michael Fassbender, as the good guy who made a bad choice, is meant to keep us engaged, even if we don't understand his motives or his reactions. We should feel something with or for the character. His performance is so flat that even at his most sniveling, snot-flying crying moments the audience sits in a numbed daze.
Cameron Diaz is painfully inept for the lead role in which she is cast. She's supposed to be terrifying and mysterious, but instead comes off as not understanding the meaning of most of her lines as she recites them in a staccato tone reminiscent of a poor high school performance. It is such a clunky performance that she often emphasizes the wrong word in lines of dialog. As if her performance isn't ludicrous enough she is also saddled with a ridiculous appearance. Her character is literally designed to look like a cheetah. Her hair is sculpted to resemble the cat and she is tattooed from behind the ear all the way down her back with a cheetah pattern. The film opens and ends with a hit-you-over-the-head-with-a-frying-pan obvious symbol that she is the hunter. We're told repeatedly that she has "done everything," and she says that she has "done very bad things" yet the only example we are given is a sophomoric, insulting, male erotic fantasy in the form of masturbation. The final scene of the film, which should be edifying and revelatory, instead is painfully predictable and full of the hunter symbolism which represses any message that could survive Diaz's droll delivery.
image Javier Bardem, with his crazy troll hair and unthinkable clothing combinations, is ironically the most human of all the characters and perhaps it's due to his exceptional acting prowess. He is forlorn and powerful; confused and focused. The complexities that he brings to the part offer a welcome respite from the bland work by the leads.
Brad Pitt shows up in all of the advertising but his part is minute. He plays an urban cowboy of sorts; he dresses in outdated polyester cowboy garb and is smart enough to have a well planned exit strategy if things go wrong. We are supposed to believe that this same man would fall for an obvious female infiltrator and that he would order Heineken at a bar in El Paso, TX. His character would never order an import. Conflicting minor details like this compound the myriad of larger problems with the film.
Penelope Cruz's beauty and talent is completely wasted. Her character is so one dimensional you feel as if you can see through her. She is stereo-typically the "wife" in the "wife" or "slut" scenario to the point that she wears a cross necklace, talks about going to church, is hesitant to talk dirty to her lover and doesn't want to know the value of her diamond.
There have been no early reviews for the film. Many wanted to believe that it was to refrain from plot spoilers and maintain an air of mystery. The truth is much less interesting. It's because this is a horrible film in every possible way.
I actually hadn't heard of The Counselor before a friend invited me to
see it, so I just quickly checked the one sentence synopsis at the top
of the page on IMDb. Basically, I had no expectations or knowledge
about what the movie was about or who was in it.
I honestly have very little understanding of what happened in this movie. It is one of the most confusing, disjointed films I have ever watched. From reading about it, you can see that it has a good cast and pretty original storyline, so what could go wrong? Believe me, what you actually see on the screen seems to defy logic.
The first 10 or 15 minutes make the most sense, relatively speaking, but it's all downhill from there. The movie jumps from scene to scene with little explanation or context as to what is happening or why. I kept patiently waiting for everything I was seeing to be tied together, but it never happens. You keep seeing the same actors in a new scene, but there's nothing telling you what it has to do with the scene you just watched before it.
I understand films do not necessarily need to follow a linear plot; plenty of other films have proved this to be true. However, if not following a linear plot, there should at least be SOMETHING that tells you how each scene is related, or at the very least a culmination at the end which explains all the previously unanswered questions. It just never happens. I left the theater more confused than ever, and the friend I was with felt the same way. I don't think we even cared that much about what happened anymore and were frankly just glad we didn't have to watch any more.
I don't know how anyone could really enjoy this movie unless they were looking for something with no action, no plot and dialog performed by actors who seem more bored than I was just watching the film. I wouldn't go so far as to say it was the worst or even one of the worst movies I've ever seen, because it very easily could have made for a decent watch, I just have absolutely no idea what the director was trying to do.
The Counselor is the work of a fantastic director, an incredible writer
and an A+ cast but sadly it just wasn't put together well enough to be
an effective movie. It was written by the talented Cormac McCarthy,
this is his screenplay debut and his lack of experience shows, he seems
to forget that he is writing the script of a modern film and not a
novel or a play. Many of the scenes are lengthy, one on one exchanges
between two characters who speak in long extended monologues. The
dialog itself is sharp, cryptic and original, I loved hearing the
characters' philosophical banter about death, religion, sex, acceptance
etc. The simple yet tragic story however is muffled by the heavy
abstract dialog, which seems to be trying to be as far from expository
as possible. It's hard to make out the details of what's actually
happening and you constantly find yourself asking, what's the point? I
did however enjoy the writing, it was dark and beautiful and I'd love
to see McCarthy return to this style in another, perhaps more
The characters, who are portrayed by some of the most talented actors out there, are all ambiguous, intellectual, bad-asses. It's fun to see slick, eccentric characters like these, but there is no variety, everyone is simply a beautiful and sadistic human being and it becomes very boring to watch. Nobody is lovable, or realistic, or funny or imperfect. It is also impossible to become invested in the characters or the story line. Just a bunch of cool people wearing expensive sunglasses saying and doing cool things, which is enjoyable, but not for a solid two hours.
The cinematography is exceptional, each shot has the aesthetic quality of a well thought out photograph. There was clearly a lot of thought put into camera angles, and where characters and objects were placed within the frame. I was never bored admiring the exotic, luxurious locations captured with such skill.
All in all, the ambitious dialog, the beautiful cinematography and the very capable cast, coupled with a very intense soundtrack made for a film that successfully created a very dark, poignant tone. Unfortunately the story was unclear, despite being very basic. The characters did not contrast each other at all, and it was hard to give a damn about any of it. I'd recommend it to anyone interested in film since I did have a good time and I think there's a lot to take away from it. As a film maker, it's interesting to see a group of people who are all masters of their craft, sincerely try there best, and make something that is so completely ineffective.
The Counselor, like previous McCarthy adaptations, is gorgeous to
behold, but unlike No Country and the others, this one is unnervingly
bright, lensed in iridescent yellows and grungy grim tones. It lacks
the scope of a Gladiator or a Kingdom of Heaven, instead acting as a
somehow intimate, character-driven (or perhaps "dialogue-driven" is
better) tale. It is, one could say, Ridley Scott's first fable (yes,
Allow me to explain. The story, like most McCarthy tales, is simple: a nameless lawyer (Fassbender), madly in love with his fiancée Laura (Cruz) and seeking to provide for her and give her the life she deserves, decides to get in a once-and-I'm-out deal: namely, to get involved in a venture dealing with twenty million dollars worth of drugs being ferried to the States from Mexico. The counselor's associates in this job are the flamboyant Reiner (Javier Bardem, returning to McCarthy's bleak world yet again, though this time sporting a Brian Grazer-esque hairdo instead of Chigurh's pageboy) and middleman Westray (Brad Pitt, sporting a Tom Petty style), both of whom warn the counselor that this deal will change his life in ways he cannot fathom. The film also focuses on Reiner's Argentinean squeeze Malkina, played by Cameron Diaz. Malkina is a glammed-up diva in the Donatella Versace vein (comparable to Kristin Scott Thomas's equally diva-like turn in Only God Forgives; they could be sisters), sporting a cheetah-spot design tattooed to her throat and a felicitous feline sneer everywhere she turns (she even owns a pair of cheetahs that she sics on desert jackrabbits for her and Reiner's amusement).
Of course, as is wont to happen in McCarthy's world, something goes wrong, sh_t hits the fan, and the lives of every character hangs in the balance. Characters are sliced, diced, shot and (in one gruesome instance) subject to a weapon of grim ingenuity that involves a motor, a loop of unbreakable wire, and a jetting gout of blood. Yet the film also brings levity to it in spades, to the point that The Counselor could almost be considered a black comedy. Much of the film's action is "interaction," as the counselor deals with the other characters that warn, judge, and even blame him for the capricious trick of fate that has sealed their own. McCarthy's penchant for cipher-like monologues is in full play here, and it can bog down an unwary traveler. That said, for all of its deep soliloquies and terse warnings, the film is not indecipherable, and at times McCarthy's caustic wit comes across brilliantly.
Scott and McCarthy manage to coax some pretty impressive work from their cadre. Michael Fassbender, whose character is himself little more than an archetype (the "good man who f_cks up once and pays for it dearly"), is actually quite good here, and I'm probably in the minority when I say that I prefer his turn here over his acclaimed performance in Shame (a film I respect but have little affection for). Cruz makes the most of a rather lightweight part, and even though her character exists as little more than an ideal, it still works. Bardem is, for once, the comic relief, playing an entrancingly funny motormouth who is the polar opposite of his last McCarthy character. He is the one who has the most fun with the dialogue and despite English being his second language, he nails Cormac's every nuance. Pitt's Westray is laid-back yet high-strung, and seems an easy fit for the actor, giving every line a wry twist. But the true revelation is Diaz's against-type turn. She is the character audiences will remember most of all, and not just because of her fornication with a Bentley (it makes sense in context . . . I think). There is a hard, wicked steel in her performance, almost predatory. There are other memorable turns, like Ruben Blades's one-scene wonder and even Dean Norris of Breaking Bad fame, that make this a truly sumptuous ensemble.
The Counselor is not an easy watch, both because of its violence and because Scott and McCarthy (I have to credit both men; it feels like such a collaborative creative effort) don't dumb it down. It's a simple story, but it's also one that feels like Scott's most mature work. It isn't without its flaws (certain scenes run on a bit long, while others feel a bit short-changed), but The Counselor results in a perverse viewing that is, in a word, unforgettable.
Went and saw The Counselor tonight. It is very different than it's advertised, or what people may be expecting. On the outside it looks like a thriller, and it does have the set up of a good thriller, but its more just a dark brooding and sometimes darkly humorous drama that has thriller like moments. I'm fairly certain if you liked No Country for Old Men the style won't be all that different to you, since it is written by Cormac McCarthy like the source material for that one was, except The Counselor was personally written by his hand alone. I've read reviews complaining its too predictable but I feel like that's the point, as it involves a relatively "good man" getting in bed with a drug cartel and everyone kind of tells him to be sure that he understands, that bad things could/will happen. I don't see this as a complaint, since A.) real people get involved in this stuff knowing bad things can happen despite all the warnings heard ahead of time and B.) some of the obvious foreshadows have great pay offs, and C.) knowing what's to come and watching anyways has a sort of knowing dread about it. Anyways, I've read a couple reviews offering it high praise and a lot of them completely bashing it, I'm somewhere in the middle but leaning more toward the former positive critique. It is a slow moving film, with lots of dialogue, and every character seems to get a lengthy monologue.
With a star studded cast, featuring the likes of Michael Fassbender,
Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem and Brad Pitt, and directed
by Ridley Scott, with a script from one of the greatest American
novelists alive, Cormac McCarthy, obviously I went to see "The
Counselor" on face value alone. Admittedly, aside from the fact that
this is not a very cinematic endeavor, the first half of this film is
pretty bad. That is to say the first act and a half is far too cryptic
for its own good, with dialogue that is in love with its own double
entendres and lines which sound as though they would be more at home in
a novel than spoken aloud by human beings. But, if you're patient
enough to stay with this film until the second hour, you will be
rewarded by witnessing how McCarthy and Scott weave this almost
action-less tale together, quietly guiding audiences into a brilliantly
disturbing and hypnotic finale.
The performances (the standout coming from Bardem) are all fine here. These are all great actors, so what else would you expect? Same goes for the direction. The wildcard with "The Counselor" was always McCarthy's transition from novel to feature film scriptwriting; a transition that was a first act failure on the grounds of dialogue alone. In that same breath, his high caliber story of a lawyer who gets involved in drug trafficking and his masterful construction redeems him almost entirely by the time it's all said and done.
As I alluded to before, there is not much action here, which may give the illusion to some that sequences are occurring but nothing is progressing, which may also promote watch checking. But within this conversation based film, as much as I would have preferred the dialogue to have been handled with more subtlety, the subtext is always interesting, gaining its momentum from the converging stories within the second half.
Final Thought: "The Counselor" is the film equivalent of an artichoke. You either like it or you don't. And both are understandable. Maybe one day, once all of the critical heat dies down, history will look more kindly on this movie. But for now, there will be flaws within it that a majority of mainstream audiences just won't be able to forgive.
Written by Markus Robinson, Edited by Nicole I. Ashland
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