Tuesday, October 29, 2013


The Counselor

Directed by Ridley Scott
Written by Cormac McCarthy

     It is a bleak world out there, especially if you decide to fatten your bank account through the seedy, venomous world of the Mexican drug trade. But, Ridley Scott and Cormac McCarthy's new film The Counselor is much more than shady deals, back stabbing and bloody deaths. It is about the moral dilemma one puts themselves in to achieve quick financial growth and the catastrophic consequences of those decisions. By no means is this film for your everyday "Joe Popcorn" crowd, in that it does not hand feed the audience answers and the film does not contain any truly likable characters, but that is alright. Give me a film that is challenging, well written and acted, and flows at the philosophical conundrum of the frailty of life and an ill advised investment in the cold-blooded world of the Mexican drug-trafficking business. No stops. No emotions.
     This is the great novelist Cormac McCarthy's ("Blood Meridian," "No Country for Old Men" and "The Road") first screenplay and it feels much like one of his novels. It contains many of the same themes: good versus evil, love and loss, moral decisions and consequences, and bloody, disturbing deaths involving decapitated heads and bursting arteries. I admire how his screenplay flows from scene to scene where you are left figuring out where the conversation is at and going, but not given much history or back story. A screenplay that kept me guessing the ins-and-outs of the story and showcased the depraved and violent side of humanistic urges and greed. Do not expect answers once the credits roll, but be impressed that you stepped into a world of impeccable style, mood and chaos. In all honesty, the film feels more McCarthy's than Scott's and that might be an appreciation and deep found respect Scott has the important writer.
     The counselor (Michael Fassbender, not given any other name) is a well-to-do lawyer in El Paso, Texas and we begin with him and his soon-to-be fiancé Laura (Penélope Cruz) in a lovely, sensual moment under the sheets. After this and his proposal, we have hardly any moments of kindness or love. It is all terrible decisions and violent actions that encompass the rest of the film. The counselor feels he needs to secure more money, he already has a lavish home/apartment, Bentley and Armani suits, for his life with Laura to be fulfilling. He meets up with a drug dealer and bar entrepreneur Reiner (Javier Bardem) and involves himself in a 20 million dollar cocaine deal. Reiner is somewhat insecure and afraid of his girlfriend Malkina (Cameron Diaz), in that she is a cold-hearted businesswomen that looks out for herself first and foremost. He knows she is smarter than him, but how smart, he is not sure.
     We are also introduced to Westray (Brad Pitt), a city cowboy who has been in the business for many years. He is the philosophical one. He has is money secured away and is willing to walk away from the drug trade at a moments notice. In one of the best scenes in the film, the counselor and Westray discuss, over a few Heineken's, the decisions and reasons for the counselor's involvement. We do not get any more information from him other than that he wants some financial security, but Westray knows that this is a difficult, deadly endeavor and can see that the counselor is not really suited for this kind of work. As the counselor leaves, Westray states that no matter what, you will get killed if anything goes wrong. One big theme in this film is that the Mexican drug business and cartels do not care about life. You cannot get away and if they cannot get you, they will get anyone who is close and dear to you. This is an evil world, with evil individuals and you better be prepared for an unhappy outcome.
     Scott and McCarthy never let you completely know the details of the plot. I even found myself a little confused throughout, but I was not completely lost. I was impressed with the visual clarity from cinematographer Dariusz Wolski and an atmospheric, tense-filled score by Daniel Pemberton. Sometimes style and mood can exemplify the beauty of film just as much as a clear narrative does. This is truly a McCarthy work and the blood is not light. There is one scene towards the end where a main character comes to a disastrous fate and is so well constructed and acted. Nobody, with exception of Ms. Cruz' character, are likable. No one. But what devilish and confident performances they deliver.
    The film mainly revolves around Fassbender's counselor, but at no moment was McCarthy not the ultimate star. That is not to say he wanted it that way, but the story and the horrible world that revolves around them is always the focus. Deceit, cold-hearted thuggish lifestyles and the devilish greed are the central philosophy and way of this film. Saying that, Fassbender is quite good and has to go through the emotional ladder throughout the film. The only question seems to be that he appears to be financially successful, so why get involved in the drug trade? Oh yeah, some humans are animalistic, greedy bastards and enough is never enough.
    Pitt and Bardem are both great. Pitt, in his tailored western attire and cowboy hat, knows how this life of drugs and death is. He is smart and cautious. When it is time to go he will vanish or attempt to. Bardem and is bright colored clothes and spiky hair express a man with too much money, but he also shows someone who is at a crossroads in his life. I think he knows the end is around the corner and he wants to live it up with drinks and women. He is confused by women, but states that they cannot get bored. They know what they want and Malkina does. Diaz, who has not been anything worth watching since her amazing role in Spike Jonze's Being John Malkovich, is quite impressive in this role. She exemplifies those animalistic desires of human greed and impulse. Also, she has two cheetahs (also cheetah spots tattooed on the back of her whole body) that are her pets and, in the most infamous scene of the year, has sex with the windshield of a yellow Ferrari. Yes, it happens. She delivers throughout the film though. Sultry, cunning, emotionless and cold-hearted in her approach to life, business and desire. Her character is the reality of life and the vulgar affairs of business, where Cruz exemplifies the beauty, sweetness and life we hope for and would want to live in. Cruz is fantastic, but not in the film that much.
     Not to mention, an impressive supporting cast, including, Bruno Ganz, John Leguizamo, Édgar Ramírez, Rosie Perez, Dean Norris, Toby Kebbell, Rubén Blades, Natalie Dormer and Goran Visnjic. All are in just one scene, but deliver precise performances that I really enjoyed.
    I know I have wrote much about this film having McCarthy's signature all over it and it truly does, but Scott's vision in the film is of a bleak, dark, moody world full of violence, greed and lust. This dark piece in Scott's filmography can somewhat be contributed to the death of his brother and filmmaker Tony Scott, who committed suicide in 2012. It almost feels that the scenes, with the cheetahs running after a hare in the west Texas countryside and Malkina's fornication with the car, could come right out of a Tony Scott film.
     This is a unsettling and quite powerful film. An unconventional thriller that is truly satisfying and gets better as it sits in my mind. It does not hold back on the evil side of life and the hurt it causes to the ones who are the closest. The Counselor is a beautifully shot film and acted to perfection, especially a surprising and cold-hearted turn from Cameron Diaz. The film is as dark as it gets and does not force feed any concrete conclusions, but the mood and style are done to a devious, assured delight. It is what it is, as in life, and the filmmakers are not hiding from that or sugar coating the issues at hand. The film is polarizing and might be the most divisive film of the year. The film is a matter of moments and details, instead of a typical structured story. That is just fine with me.

Photo credits by IMDB.

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