best director, best original screenplay, best picture, best supporting actor, blade runner, blood meridian, brad pitt, cameron diaz, car sex, coen brothers, cormac mccarthy, drug deal, evening redness in the west, ferrari, ingmar bergman, javier bardem, michael fassbender, no country for old men, oscar, penelope cruz, ridley scott, ruben blades, the counselor, winner
I was finally able to catch Ridley Scott‘s The Counselor this weekend and suffice it to say, I fucking loved it. Filmed form the first original screenplay written by literature heavyweight Cormac McCarthy (easily one of the five finest living American writers), this film showcases McCarthy‘s wit, crassness and predilection towards extreme violence. This is his film. And with an all-star cast with Michael Fassbender (arguably film’s most sought after commodity), Javier Bardem with yet another fascinating haircut, Brad Pitt, Cameron Diaz, Penelope Cruz and a really amazing cast of folks surrounding them, how could this go wrong? It appears that the vast majority of people out there in the world think this film was a total flop, one that didn’t connect with its audience. I think expectations by most were off going into the film. I think this was aptly summed up by something I heard a woman in the theater with me moaning about as I left: “I spent $42 on this show and it was a waste. It wasn’t what I expected” or something of the like. I could hear her whispering about her dislike of the film from 10 rows away with more than 20 minutes left in the film. Funny enough, I heard almost the exact same comments after seeing No Country for Old Men, a film ripped nearly word for word from McCarthy‘s novel of the same name. It won 4 Oscars including Best Picture, Director(s), Screenplay and Supporting Actor (Bardem). Take that for what you will.
The synopsis of the film is simple. A wealthy unnamed solicitor (Fassbender) is in need of some money. He uses his connections in the darker side of life, namely Reiner (Javier Bardem) and Westray (Brad Pitt) to be part of a drug deal that will net him part of $20 million. But this deal, as one would expect, goes south when someone from the outside (or is it the inside?) meddles in the affairs leading all three men to try and find a safe way out.
The Counselor’s greed isn’t necessarily derived from wanting more. He wants to provide for he and his new wife Laura (Penelope Cruz), which is admirable…except for the drug running part. We never get an idea as to what it is that has caused the Counselor’s fiscal transgressions. I might think it’s the Bentley that he drives or the 3.9 carat diamond ring he’s gotten his girl, especially since he seems to deal with common criminals rather than high profile clients. And it’s no wonder the Counselor would want to protect Laura. She is a beautiful, delicate flower, unhardened by a life like that of the Counselor’s. When she and Reiner’s girlfriend, Malkina (Cameron Diaz) are having a massage together, they discuss Laura’s sex life which clearly much tamer than Malkina’s, an indication that it just isn’t the sex life that is more tame (something which is confirmed later in the film). So the Counselor is justified.
So as things fall apart for the Counselor, so they do for Reiner and Westray. All on the run, little nuggets that McCarthy laced into the script at the beginning of the film, little mentions, all come to fruition with the usual gunshots, spurts of blood and absolute depravity you would come to expect from him. I think this is one of the strong points of the script, and it is something that McCarthy has been known to do even in his novel. For example, in his masterpiece Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West, at the beginning of each chapter, there is a list of things that occur within the chapter, effectively acting as spoilers. However, in my experience, they enhanced the anticipation of those events and McCarthy always delivered far more than I expected. The same goes for at least two events in this film.
This actually pains me to say this, but Cameron Diaz was enjoyable to watch and very good in her role as the praying mantis. Without a doubt, she may well be the subject of the most bizarre act I’ve ever seen on film – her having sex…with a Ferrari. How do you ask? Well, Malkina’s apparently very limber and VERY into windshields. The story as told to the Counselor by Reiner might possibly be the most odd soliloquy committed to film this year and one that is quintessential McCarthy. I could hear the breath leave people’s mouths as they listened to Bardem tell the story. Just insane. One of the many reasons that this film was great. The story meandered, but it was the dialogue that sewed it together, held my interest.
I suppose I can understand where some people not familiar with McCarthy‘s work might fall prey to hating the ramblings that pepper the landscape of this film. To me, it’s refreshing to get those types of exchanges (reference the Counselor’s conversation with jefe [Rubén Blades]) in the film. But I do wonder – did Ingmar Bergman ever face this same criticism with his scripts? His films are as riddled with these same flights of dialogical fancy yet his works are deemed masterpieces. Now, in no way am I comparing The Counselor to Bergman‘s work…but they are cut from the same cloth, albeit from different ends of said cloth. The difference here…the director? I haven’t been a fan of Ridley Scott‘s work since Blade Runner. This film is adequate, but like I said, its strength lies in its script. Fassbender, Bardem and Diaz’s performances sparkle in this film. Is that Scott‘s doing, though? Pitt is fair as is Cruz but nothing spectacular. So we get an uneven set of performances and a film structured in a way that does make it hard to follow. To me, perceived issue with this film should lay at Scott‘s doorstep. Here is a man who has tried for year’s to get his hands on Blood Meridian to make a film of it. He finally gets his chance with material from McCarthy and mucks it up. Thank the film gods he never landed McCarthy‘s signature literary work.
All this aside, I enjoyed The Counselor despite Scott‘s shortcomings as a director. I am constantly intrigued by Michael Fassbender and the roles he chooses, which rarely seem to fall short. I loved this film, but perhaps that’s mostly because the McCarthy fanboy inside of me was so happy to see an original work of his finally make it to the big screen. If you’re looking for something off the beaten path despite the A-list cast, give this film a chance. You may be disappointed, but you won’t soon forget this film. That I can assure you.
Here’s the trailer: