In a world populated by villains, speed is everything. This is the underlying message of The Counselor, an intense crime thriller directed by Ridley Scott, and featuring an original screenplay by Cormac McCarthy. The Counselor features a wonderful cast filled with huge stars, some featured in very small roles. Bruno Ganz, Natalie Dormer, Dean Norris, and Brad Pitt are all given brief but wonderful cameos. The cinematography is fantastic, and the score is exceptionally well done. The only big detractors for this film are the script, and the main villain.
This is one of McCarthy’s weaker stories, as this isn’t his medium. The bulk of the film is written in the style of a novel, with characters having long, drawn out conversations with seemingly little focus. They tell stories that are meant to build up character and introduce you to the world. This is all fine and good in a novel, but the medium of film is enhanced by showing, not telling. The style of long-winded stories has the ability to bore the audience, and you can never tell when something a character said is truly important to the plot. McCarthy hits at some very interesting themes in the film, but a lot of it is lost in the shuffle of a somewhat confusing plot. This is not a film you can just turn on while you are eating dinner, or watch passively. If you want to get a good grasp of what’s happening, you have to make sure to pay attention. That being said, the second half of the film is very tense, and is a lot more cinematic. The tension between characters ramps up, and the emotional through lines begin to tie the story together. Each seemingly pointless story in the first half of the film becomes important by the end.
The script also has some sexist undertones, with many of the male characters in the film dismissing women as objects, which makes their demise at the hands of a woman all the more ironic. Drug dealers are not known for having particularly exquisite world views. Surprisingly enough this film does pass the Bechdel Test, which for those of you who don’t know is a test designed to see if the females in a film ever interact with each other, and have a conversation that doesn’t involve men.
The other big detractor of The Counselor is the main villain. The villain of the film is played by Cameron Diaz (pictured), who does a decent acting job, but decent doesn’t cut it when everyone else around you is giving stellar performances. She gets acted off the screen whenever she shares a scene with Javier Bardem (pictured) who is excellent in this film. The villain doesn’t seem to have a very strong motive, and is weird in over-the-top ways. She has pet cheetahs, she sleeps in cheetah print bedding, and she has an elaborate cheetah tattoo on her back. Needless to say, this is an overblown metaphor for her being quick in both wits and action.
The best parts of this film are its action and its brutality. When things start going wrong for our characters, they go wrong in a spectacular and often bloody fashion. The film pulls no punches, and puts the viewer directly into the scene of the brutality. Where other filmmakers would cut away, Scott makes you watch. Combine this with a truly outstanding performance by Michael Fassbender (pictured at top), and you really begin to believe in the horror you see onscreen.
Overall, The Counselor is an ambitious and interesting film. Even though this is one of McCarthy’s weaker scripts, it still has enough material to keep you intellectually and emotionally stimulated. It may seem like it’s slow and meandering near the beginning, but stick through it as it finishes strongly.
The Counselor premieres June 28th on HBO. Here’s the trailer to pique your interest until then: