The Counselor has been receiving what could be generously referred to as ‘mixed’ reviews. So I thought I’d hand it over to my good friend and trusted James Bond expert Chris Bridges. Chris is notoriously difficult to please (take a look at his previous review) and allegedly has not actually enjoyed a film since GoldenEye in 1995. So take it away Chris and try to go easy on the 007 references!
The Counselor (2013) – REVIEW
On Saturday the 16th of November I sent Screenkicker’s Mikey a text.
Me: Fancy going to see the Counselor tonight?
Mikey: Sorry I can’t, I am watching X FACTOR. Anyway I’ve read it is shit!
So off to the cinema I went, alone. The Counselor is Ridley Scott’s latest film and features one hell of a cast: Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz and Cameron Diaz (oh and John ‘Benni Blanco from Da’ Bronx’ Leguizamo cameos too! Written by Cormac McCarthy, this is a complex crime thriller that tells the story of a Mexico based lawyer (The Fass) as he embarks upon his first big money drug deal.
Without wanting to litter this review with asterisks and the word SPOILERS in caps, I can reveal that the drug deal doesn’t quite go to plan, and soon our main character has seriously pissed off some Mexican drug lords. So let me guess, you are thinking – lots of bloody shootouts in cactus filled deserts? Subtitled goons wearing mirrored sunglasses? Drug Lords firing massive rocket launchers at huge trucks? – NO! This is not Licence To Kill! This is Cormac McCarthy’s The Counselor, and he likes his characters to talk… a lot.
Rather than littering his script with numerous episodes of über violence and gun play, McCarthy focuses on the characters. The film features many long dialogue heavy scenes in which the characters discuss everything from engagement rings to Catholicism. They also talk about sex… a lot. The whole film simmers with an undertone of sex. The film reeks of it, and much of this is Cameron Diaz’s (Malkina) doing. Malkina is a cross between Lady MacBeth and Catherine Tramell, and Diaz plays her like a pantomime porn star, delivering each line in a slow, pouty and untrustworthy fashion. She delivers an assured if slightly OTT performance as the wickedly scheming girlfriend of Reiner (Bardem), the business partner of the counselor. Bardem is great in this movie; he is a reliable actor, and he comes across well in this picture despite looking utterly ridiculous throughout – he looks like Roy Scheider crossed with Antony Costa from the boy band Blue!
But back to the dialogue – it is through these long conversations that the key questions and themes of the film are explored, namely – issues of existentialism and what impact can our decisions have on others, and ourselves? This is a film about choices. I believe this is where the negative reviews (those that persuaded Mikey to steer clear) have stemmed from. This is a film that demands your attention. The conversations between characters aren’t used for exposition, they aren’t used to drive the plot forward – they are the plot. This is a character piece, and I think it has a lot in common with another McCarthy story – No Country For Old Men. However I think the main difference is that The Counselor doesn’t have an Anton Chigurh character – no one in this film is nearly as interesting (or terrifying) as him, and the film suffers because of this. The ‘baddies’ in this film are largely faceless – we know little, and find out little about them. So when things go tits up for Fassbender (who gives a strong central performance) – we don’t care too much.
This is a film about interesting characters, and on the whole the cast do well. Cruz gives her best ‘I’m sexy and also vulnerable’ in a heavily accented, but strong performance. She and The Fass have good chemistry and make a believable on-screen couple (somewhat ironic – given that her actual husband co-stars in the film). Fassbender looks completely at home as the central character, and delivers a believable performance that displays his full acting range. Pitt is Pitt, his performance feels familiar, and he is clearly comfortable in the role, that is not a criticism – but you get the feeling he has played this part before.
The Counselor is not a bad film, but not great film either. I think many people will hate it, and they’ll hate it because it wasn’t what they were expecting. If you go see this film, then take this piece of cinema-going advice. Don’t go see this film for the plot, don’t go see it expecting action, go see it for the performances. Watch this film with your ‘Tarantino glasses’ on, for he is a filmmaker whose films are often verbose. We accept without question that his movies will be character focused not plot focused – perhaps we should give Scott the same opportunity. If I had, this review may be an 8 out of 10 rather than a 6 out of 10.
So what is the moral of this? Well it is simple, sometimes the critics get it wrong.