The Counselor Review

Posted: October 30, 2013 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

counselorWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

Ridley Scott is, without a doubt, one of my favourite filmmakers. Of course the main reason for this is that I think he’s exceptionally talented and has made several great films. But one of Scott’s unsung talents is his sheer diversity. Though the man is thought of for large scale productions like Blade Runner or Gladiator, Scott also effectively brings his craft to smaller pictures like Matchstick Men and The Duelists. The fact that he can switch between scales so easily is a unique talent. For example, last year’s Prometheus was a science-fiction epic with tremendous visual scope and ambitious themes such as why we’re here and if we have disappointed our creators. His newest film by contrast, is a low key crime thriller called The Counselor. The film was met with negative reviews, but the last time a star-studded crime film from Ridley Scott got disappointing reviews it was American Gangster, a film I really enjoy. So my hopes were high that Scott would be able to deliver another solid work.

The film follows a lawyer referred to only as counselor (Michael Fassbender), a young lawyer madly in love with Laura (Penelope Cruz). He purposes to her, purchasing an outrageously expensive ring and of course, she accepts. The problem is he is in financial trouble, so the counselor turns to his friend Reiner (Javier Bardem). Reiner is a professional criminal, and the two of them, along with a man known as Westray (Brad Pitt) set up a deal with a drug cartel. However when things do not go as planned, the consequences that occur are dire.

The Counselor was written by Cormac McCarthy, whose novels No Country for Old Men and The Road were turned into excellent films. However this is McCarthy’s first original screenplay, a prospect which I found very exciting going in. Unfortunately, his script is the most problematic aspect of the film. The overall story for example is pretty uninspired. The story of a man who gets involved with crime only to watch his life spiral out of control has been told before and in more interesting ways, including McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men. Granted, I think McCarthy knows this isn’t an overly original story and tries to make up for that through execution and themes. But I don’t think these elements work either. The story is told in an almost abstract way where details are scarce. This kept me at an emotional distance and eventually just confused me. There are moments where I wasn’t entirely sure what was happening and a few scenes where I don’t get what purpose they serve. And as far as greater thematic ideas, I don’t really know what the film is trying to say other than being greedy and becoming a criminal is bad.

The real shame about McCarthy’s script is that there are glimmers of greatness in it. There is a lot of really interesting dialogue here which is very memorable. Some have criticized the dialogue for not being realistic, but I personally like stylistic dialogue, particularly when it’s as captivating as this. The characters are also unique personalities who are not only fun to watch, but fun to watch interact. Some scenes also show a lot of creativity and admire McCarthy for taking the story to the very dark places he did.

Thankfully, the glimmer’s of greatness I referred to are brought out in their fullest by Ridley Scott. Scott is well-known for his technical prowess and his extensive attention to detail, traits he brings to this project. The technical aspects of The Counselor don’t compare to how awe-inspiring they were in Prometheus, but they are well-executed and serve the film. The cinematography has a cool greyish tint and a lot of cool landscapes are caught. Scott also crafts some really engaging scenes. Whether it is one of the film’s creative set pieces or one of the many conversations, Scott has a way of making the material shine. There’s also a cool score from relative newcomer Daniel Pemberton which accentuates a lot of scenes without being overbearing. Even little details impress here, such as one character being covered in sweat and with dirty fingernails when they are in a bad place.

The actors also bring a lot out of their characters. Michael Fassbender delivers a strong turn as the confident, almost arrogant, title character who becomes an emotional wreck as his world collapses around him. Javier Bardem is funny as the counselor’s friend Reiner who also brings subtle hints of greater depth. Brad Pitt also has a fun presence here, channelling his charismatic role in Killing Them Softly. I will say that all three have done much better work in other films, but that doesn’t mean there performances here aren’t impressive. Of course, I expected all of them to do well, the wild card was Cameron Diaz. Thankfully, she’s pretty good here too. Not great, and I think the three actors above all do a better job, but Diaz is perfectly solid and is used effectively. Dean Norris and John Leguizamo also make enjoyable cameos, even if I’m not sure what the purpose of their scene is.

The Counselor is a movie I probably shouldn’t like given my numerous problems with fundamental elements of the script. But some interesting dialogue, great acting, and the excellent craftsmanship of Ridley Scott really elevate the material. This isn’t a film I can easily recommend and it also doesn’t live up to the pedigree of the talent involved with the film, but I still had an enjoyable theater experience. For all of The Counselor’s flaws, when the film works it works very well.

B-

Comments
  1. CMrok93 says:

    Good review Dan. It isn’t perfect, but the cast sure as hell makes it worth watching. With the exception of Diaz, who feels totally out of her league amongst these all-stars.

  2. le0pard13 says:

    I remain very curious to see this film, Daniel. And I, too, loved American Gangster when it came out (more so when the director’s cut arrived). Fine review, my friend.

  3. Jon Harrison says:

    Great review man! I found it hard to get through the first half of the film but when the second half rolled in I saw those little random conversations finally made sense, and I don’t know, stuff finally started happening haha. Ridley Scott did great here though!

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