Cormac McCarthy Shows Off His Screenplay In "The Counselor"

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The Counselor

counselor1Release Date: October 25, 2013
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Penélope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt
Director: Ridley Scott
Studio: Scott Free Productions, Nick Wechsler Productions, Chockstone Pictures
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Genre(s): Drama, Thriller, Mystery

Rating: ★★★★☆
Review Spoilers: Medium
IMDB | Rotten Tomatoes | Wikipedia

So I’m going to be real with you, I only saw this movie for Michael Fassbender. I knew little to nothing about the movie, in fact I only realized this was written by Cormac McCarthy when I saw his name on the screen. That being said, this is not a movie for general audiences. Not because it’s violent, not because it’s sexual, not because of the subject matter. For the pure reason that this is not a movie written to be understood in one sitting.

To explain this, we need to go back to Cormac McCarthy. Now if my American Novels class has taught me anything, it’s that McCarthy has been influenced strongly by Hemingway, and if his writing has taught me anything, it’s that McCarthy doens’t shy away from any topic. The Counselor is complex. Not the story, that’s a relatively easy story to understand. But like all well written stories, it’s not about the plot, it’s about the people. Each character is immensely complex, and the actors portraying the characters did a perfect job of it.

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So instead of telling you a story about The Counselor who makes a shady deal with a shady man and basically gets his life screwed over because of his incredibly poor choices, I’m going to tell you about the beautiful poetry that McCarthy writes in each of his brilliant characters.

The horrible downside to this movie is that it really caters to a certain kind of viewer. Personally, I think that viewer is an English major. Characters go into beautiful asides and speak horrible truths, but it’s wrapped in verbose language and dialogue. There’s very little hand holding, and the viewer is quite literally thrown into the deep end, and in the end it’s sink or swim.

There are some gorgeous scenes, because the movie is more a work of art than fodder for entertainment. Gritty landscapes, neon colors, wide lenses make it a spectacle just to watch. The scenes in the desert are reminiscent of Breaking Bad even bringing in the show’s Dean Norris for a short scene. There are some undeniable moments where it seems like we are paying tribute to that other beautifully written show. The difference? Breaking Bad knew their audience, The Counselor doesn’t seem to. This isn’t a light date movie, or even a movie to simply walk into and check out.

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Fassbender is the titular character, perpetually unnamed and dubbed the title The Counselor. He’s in over his head, and it shows, despite his cool and charming demeanor. He’s got friends in low places, but has no idea what he’s in for. A constant fish out of water, despite his attractive face, The Counselor is not an attractive character. He’s motivated by status and money. Weighing love like the class of a diamond, he’s blinded by the reality of the world. Enraptured by Bardem’s Reiner, he longs to seek the fast life. It shows when he is donned in beautiful suits, driving beautiful cars, and loving a beautiful woman.

Penélope Cruz’s Laura is a naive woman, and while she is beautiful and a shining beacon of light, she is a reminder of the unattainable woman. The Madonna. Contrasted from Cameron Diaz’s Malkina, she is religious and traditional. She doesn’t pry at The Counselor’s life, nor does she seem to question his alternate life. She becomes a sacrificial lamb to his desire for material wealth, and the saddest part is she has no idea.

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Perfection itself is personified in Malkina. Although Fassbender plays the title character, the entire movie revolves around Malkina. She’s brilliant. I can’t remember a thing Diaz has been in since Charlie’s Angels and I honestly thought she was going to be terrible in this movie, but I have been converted. Brilliant but deadly, she speaks truths and every word that comes out of her mouth describes her voracious appetite for power as well as propels the general desire for power in the movie.

Javier Bardem and Brad Pitt play wonderful foils off of each other, though the duo never even meet on screen. Both characters are devolving into themselves from their less-than-honorable lifestyles. Bardem’s Reiner is wilting in extravagance, and he lives his life afraid of being a cuckold to Malkina’s wit. Completely aware of the dangers of the life he’s lived, Pitt’s Westray lives without any of the extravagance or gilt that Reiner’s has. He is a man who can disappear in a heart beat, but has a great weakness for beautiful women. He is a pragmatist, but in his own way he lives a fantasy that he is untouchable.

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There are some great auxiliary characters who not only boost the character of The Counselor, but also emphasize the theme of greed in the film. Rosie Pérez plays a prisoner named Ruth, whose love for her son drives The Counselor to unknowingly dig his own grave. Natalie Dormer plays a beautiful blonde whose hand in the underground crime world has not seemed to diminish her own code of honor. Toby Kebbell plays a mysterious old client of The Counselors, and gives us insight into his life before his successes.

The movie’s truest characters seem to be the morally greyest. Javier Bardem’s Reiner, Brad Pitt’s Westray, and Cameron Diaz’s wondrous Malkina are true to character, and perfectly flawed. There is something to be said about how beautifully the characters are written, because they literally hold the movie up. That’s the entire reason I gave this movie the score that I did. It’s fast paced, but slow at the same time. In the end, it’s a movie that merits many viewings with subtitles and preferably a SparkNotes version on the side.

Final Thoughts: McCarthy is ambitious in his first original screenplay, and it translates beautifully on screen, but in the end it’s better fitted for the critics and doting English buffs, and could even be too verbose for a critical audience.