“You are the world you have created. And when you cease to exist, that world you have created will also cease to exist.”
Ridley and Cormac
One of the most anticipated films last year among cinephiles, was the first time pairing of writer Cormac McCarthy (his first original screenplay) and director Ridley Scott. Add to that a phenomenal A-list cast, and you have people talking Oscars. However, The Counselor failed miserably with critics and the movie going public. The film did little box office in the United States, and received a god awful CinemaScore grade "D", meaning that the small amount of people that did see the film HATED it.
During production, Ridley Scott's brother, Tony Scott, tragically ended his life. This was a tough loss for Ridley, who began his film career by directing Tony in Boy and Bicycle, made in 1962 while Ridley was at the Royal College of Art in London. However, Ridley only took one week off and resumed filming The Counselor. The script was from hailed writer Cormac McCarthy, whose novel No Country for Old Men, was adapted by the Coen Brothers and won the Academy Award for Best Picture seven years ago. With the combination of Scott and McCarthy, this would seem like a sure fire hit, no?
Ridley Scott has been down the "unsung" road before. A little movie released thirty-two years ago called Blade Runner, went unsung for decades. For as many colossal hits critically and commercially Ridley Scott has made over his enormous six decade long career (Alien, Thelma and Louise, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, and American Gangster), he's also had his share of failures (Legend, Someone Watch Over Me, Black Rain, 1492: Conquest of Paradise, Kingdom of Heaven, and A Good Year). The result is a rare case of a filmmaker being both over-praised and under-praised.
Scott, whose films have made over $1 billion at the global box office, and has been nominated three times for the directing Oscar, is one of the few director's in Hollywood who can command A-list talent for major studio productions not based on comic books, video games, old TV-shows, or theme park rides etc. Ridley Scott is STILL doing this in his late seventies, and has shown no signs of slowing down. Scott can take a failure or two here and there because his resume is so vast and expansive that there's never been any sign that the failures will last for long. Even though The Counselor was a "failure", Scott just completed another massive epic Exodus: Gods and Kings, that will be released later this year.
It should be noted that Ridley Scott had developed, along with screenwriter William Monahan (Kingdom of Heaven, The Departed), an adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's highly praised Blood Meridian, a few years ago. Blood Meridian has gone through a number of filmmakers and pre-production phases, still as of 2014, no film adaptation of Blood Meridian has gone into production.
My Thoughts on The Counselor
The Counselor, tells a story all too familiar, a drug deal gone wrong, and deals with themes of someone getting in over their head, greed, and death. However, what separates The Counselor from other similarly themed projects is that it also concerns the primal instincts of humans and their consequences. The plot is intentionally abstract, which in this day where most major films have the plot spoon fed to us, spells box office poison. We know the who, what, when, where, and why, but the how happens mostly off screen, completely out of sight and out of mind. Michael Fassbender's the Counselor (we never learn his real name) is but a pawn in a world that he mistakenly gets into and doesn't comprehend. This is the world that Tommy Lee Jones's Sheriff Bell fears at the end of McCarthy's No Country for Old Men.
A metaphor used in the film, is that the Counselor is merely a jackrabbit, being hunted by fast, ferocious cheetah's (drug cartel). The best performance in the film belongs to Cameron Diaz, who plays the cold and calculating Malkina, the girlfriend of Javier Bardem's Reiner, an underground drug kingpin. Early in the film, Malkina and Penelope Cruz's Laura (who just got engaged to the Counselor) are lounging about, watching intently through binoculars Malkina's pet cheetah chase down a jackrabbit across the plains. Soon, they will participate in a similar life or death situation. Malkina may have come from a rough background, but she is in control of everything in her life, as we come to learn that she is no jackrabbit.
Michael Fassbender's Counselor delves into the dark world of trafficking through his business partner Reiner, a man flirting with disaster who is afraid everyone (including Malkina) will discover he is an impostor in his own life. Soon the Counselor realizes that when something goes wrong in this world you have no friends. Brad Pitt, who plays a shady drug associate named Westray, warns the Counselor about getting into this sort of business, but he himself turns out to be equally as flawed, with a penchant for womanizing and drinking. There are no good guys and bad guys in The Counselor, only bad people and even worse people.
There are several scenes that are a stylistic and narrative highlight. The most memorable scene in the film involves Cameron Diaz and a car (I won't ruin it, see it yourself), while two more memorable scenes involve beheadings, both are quite shocking. The violence is brutally realistic and bleak, and is taken completely serious, something lacking in modern day cinema. There are no "entertaining" action scenes in this film that Scott has become famous for, the violence is neither overdone or unnecessary and completely fits the story. Perhaps the most shocking violence in the film is merely implied.
McCarthy's writing style is an example of pure abstract movie writing. We are given only bare minimum details about characters, events, and schemes that take place throughout the film. This can be a challenging viewing experience, not something that most major studios get behind. So from a cinematic standpoint, one must at least admire the balls (for lack of a better word) that Scott and McCarthy have. This is a straight up fuck you to traditional cinematic narrative and style. Scott directs McCarthy's script with a confident and calculating hand, you can feel the ice cold world (despite being mostly set in Texas-Mexican border) these characters inhabit. This is not a film conventional movie goers will embrace, indeed they didn't, but if you put in an extra bit of effort, Scott and McCarthy reward you with a film unlike any that is being released in present day cinema.
The Counselor is currently available on VOD, DVD & Blu-Ray (highly suggested, great deleted scenes), and HBO/HBO Go.
Videos Related to the Film
Note: The above and below scenes were created specifically for online viewing, giving backstory to Fassbender, Natalie Dormer, Bardem, and Diaz's characters. More stylized, interesting. They are not in any cuts of the film.