As a Cormac McCarthy fanboy, I was excited to see The Counsellor. Some of his books (The Road, No Country for Old Men, All the Pretty Horses) have been adapted by others to film but this is a first – McCarthy wrote the script to go straight to the big screen. Therefore the film begs a load of expectation, particularly with an acclaimed director, Ridley Scott, and a stellar cast with the likes of Michael Fassbender, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz and my good old buddy, Brad Pitt.
I liked it, but not for the right reasons. A lot of criticism by others towards the film, I will admit, is justified, and some of it is clearly the vitriolic droolings of morons that refuse to accept that such a star-studded film would dare to have a silly tangled plot, main characters that don’t offer much, and relatively obfuscating dialogue. For those that take their films too seriously and like to be in the loop, you will hate The Counsellor, because some things just don’t add up, mostly for aesthetic purposes.
Right away, you know you are watching a film influenced by McCarthy. How? Firstly, the untranslated Spanish, a familiar novelistic trope of his.
[Filmgoers sat in cinemas are rage-gripping their armrests in apoplexy: why don’t we know what they’re saying?!]
McCarthyisms continue to permeate the rest of the film. Dialogue yo-yos between laconic platitudes and deep man-of-the-world prose (compare the opening sex scene’s banalities and the counsellor’s phone convo with that Spanish guy who summarises his fate and worldview in a couple of sentences). McCarthy is a man of words so it is inevitable that his novelistic artistry will leak into his scriptwriting. Critics therefore claim his dialogue to be too unconvincing and overly poetic because nobody talks like these guys do in real life.
[Filmgoers tilt their heads – they came to see a film, not read a book! Speak real English, not this Shakespeare crap!]
McCarthy’s fondness for ultra-simplistic yet powerful depictions of surroundings and character behaviours is appropriately substituted by relentlessly bright scenes so zoomed in on actors’ faces that you can practically see the bacteria wriggling in the actors’ pores. The film is heavily aestheticised in order to convey all manners of sensuality and emotional highs and lows that is lost in the transferring from paper to screen.
[Where’s the action? Why is there no drawn-out gun chase?!]
Finally, there is a heavy masculine presence in the film of pride, greed, guns, cold-blooded killings, sex, and a manly stoic acceptance of consequences, at least, by some of the characters.
[I can’t accept that the film ended this way! This film is a load of shit! Wait till rottentomatoes hears about this!]
That last theme there is the lynchpin of the whole film and what makes the counsellor’s downfall so poignant, that he hadn’t learned what a dangerous game he was playing with his life and couldn’t accept the inevitable consequences like a man.
Deep stuff. Why is everyone so angry over the film though? The plot itself isn’t really the main problem. It’s more the roles of the actors that seems to disappoint. None of them really give memorable performances, except of course, for Diaz, who we get to see have sex with a car. Yup. But I mean, for such huge actors, the roles they occupy were a bit of a let-down which I reckon is down to the stoic nature of McCarthy’s characterising. Bardem and Pitt don’t really offer that much except to exaggerate the charateristics of the decadent lives of drug barons (Bardem has cheetahs as pets, pool parties, casually opens a new nightclub, has a stupid tan and haircut, etc). Diaz plays her role almost too coldly to be intimidating. Cruz’s only contribution is as the love/sex/marriage-toy of Fassbender, who is the only one to really evoke any strong emotions and only when he realises how deep in shit he is…
OK, Going back to Diaz having sex with a car, this also disappointed many critics because it is totally unnecessary, which one can’t really argue with. It gave another weak psychotic dimension to Diaz’s character but the overall effect didn’t really seem to add much (except nobody will look at Diaz the same way again).
A lot of things just don’t add up and seem to be included purely for the sake of gimmickry. It seems that cause the film is so high-profile, they can throw anything into the film and get away with it. I think that’s what I love about it. McCarthy and co. are master trolls. As mentioned, there is Diaz’s autophilia, Bardem’s eccentric pets and assemblage… there are also cameos that detract from any seriousness that the film is meant to evoke. Casting Dean Norris (Breaking Bad‘s Hank Schrader) as the guy who picks up the cocaine in Chicago was no accident. Natalie Dormer resembles her duplicitous character Marjory from Game of Thrones in both sex appeal and ulterior motive. Even the eager-to-please waitress played by Barbara Durkin may have been a nod to her role as subservient smiling receptionist in I’m Alan Partridge. I mean, come on! What absolute jokers in Hollywood and what fun to piss off a lot of on-edge and alert film and TV consumers with their cinematic hijinks.
I like to think that everyone had a larf making this film but I’m not so sure. The Counsellor straddles that precarious position of gritty drug-crime-in-the-desert drama and self-ironic tongue-in-cheek trolling and an example of what big budgets and prize-winning artists can get away with. Who knows what this film is really meant to represent. I will say that the McCarthyisms stop the film from being a forgettable bullshit slick action movie. It’s definitely something different to go and see – just take everything with a pinch of salt and see what results from mixing the efforts of acclaimed literary prowess with blockbusting cinema. You may or may not like it.