Published on November 3rd, 2013 | by Craig Silliphant


The Counselor

Ugh, Ridley Scott.  The man does know how to make something look first-rate on screen, but with the exception of movies like Alien and Blade Runner (and I’ll grant him Matchstick Men as well), his films are often criminally overrated.  Robin Hood, Kingdom of Heaven, Hannibal — Ugh.  Even some of the weightier movies like Blackhawk Down or Gladiator are overly slick, empty films.  And let’s not get started on the insanely cool visuals but horribly executed narrative of Prometheus.  Scott is a technical genius, but he has the weakest sense of story.  The Counselor is his latest, and while it has some moments worth watching, it’s a mess.  In the film, Michael Fassbender plays a lawyer whose recent shady dealings in the criminal underworld catch up with him.

You’d think in this case Scott would be saved by his writer; Cormac McCarthy penned The Counselor, which was enough to raise my curiosity beyond my usual Ridley-based prejudices.  But it’s probably more accurate to say, this movie was beaten about the face and neck by Cormac McCarthy.  It’s so unrelenting in its voice, that it becomes a parody of itself.

There are some truly profound ideas and philosophical dialogue that paint the movie, but extreme overkill sets in when such dialogue is shoehorned in with a high degree of clumsiness.  Excellent lines aren’t earned in conversations, instead, these lines themselves are steering the conversations in the most inorganic of ways.  And even bit characters (that would most likely have the least profound of lives) are spouting this stuff off like a poor man’s Rene Descartes.  It feels a lot more like something you could get away with in a novel, but playing out in real time onscreen, it becomes unintentionally funny or just plain distracting.

And worse, for some reason, people still cast the haggard, scenery chewing Cameron Diaz in sexpot roles in films like this (let her stick to high calorie romantic comedies).  When she delivers these contrived lines of dialogue, she sounds like a high school kid reading Shakespeare that hasn’t a clue what the lines mean.  When she’s on screen, the movie feels like a cheap television soap opera.

Speaking of acting, it’s not all bad.  There are some great scenes between some amazing actors.  Michael Fassbender is an acting God (though all I can ever think about after seeing Shame is his giant emasculating horse wang), and when you throw in heavyweights like Javier Bardem and even Brad Pitt, there are some great back and forths.

While I like that there was a lean, mean plot — nothing happens for the entire first hour.  I could forgive that first hour if we at least learned anything about these characters in that stretch, but it doesn’t dig too far below the surface.  Fassbender and Penelope Cruz are supposedly in love, but they just keep talking about it, not doing anything about it (beyond a pointlessly overlong scene where Fassbender buys an engagement ring).  Remember what Fitzgerald said?  “Action is character.”  Fuck talk is all you see of their motivations and sentiments, at least until too late in the film.

And what was with the scene where Fassbender and Cruz are approached by Fassbender’s old client at the polo match?  It doesn’t reveal anything about him, it doesn’t go anywhere, nor is it ever brought up later.  It feels like it was accidentally left in the reel, when it should have ended up on the cutting room floor, part of an excised story line.  There are so many scenes that don’t advance the plot of the film.  Some of them are fun and worth taking a sidestep for, like Dean Norris and John Leguizamo discussing a body in a barrel — but a lot of them are pointless, and those ones add up to affect the picture as a whole.

All the nonsense in The Counselor raises an interesting question — do you blame the writer or do you blame the director?  There was obviously some brilliance and perhaps even a great film trying to raise its hand through the rubble of this train wreck.  So what happened?  It’s hard to say, though knowing how gifted McCarthy can be, and how inept Scott can be at telling a story, I’d probably have to put the blame on the director.  That said, I could believe that McCarthy just doesn’t have the rhythm of a screenplay writing down versus constructing prose.  But I suppose that though film is a collaborative medium, in the end, the director is in charge.  In this case, it was probably the blind leading the blind.  Ugh, Ridley Scott.


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About the Author

is a D-level celebrity with delusions of grandeur. A writer, critic, creative director, editor, broadcaster, and occasional filmmaker, his thoughts have appeared on radio, television, in print, and on the web. He is a juror on the Polaris Music Prize and the Juno Awards. He loves Saskatoon. He has horrible night terrors and apocalyptic dreams.

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