Cormac McCarthy’s The Counselor

‘If your definition of a friend is someone who is willing to die for you, then you’ve got no friends.’

It’s been a little over a year since The Counselor was out in theatres, and after a lot of less-than-forgiving reviews I ended up missing it altogether — despite being drawn in by the trailer, the cast, and of course the genius, mouth-watering writing skills of Mr McCarthy.

Never one to worry about a critic’s opinion, or a bad rating, I finally followed my gut and waded in on The Counselor last night.

The Counselor, played by the exquisite Michael Fassbender, represents big-time drug dealers and other corrupt clients all around the world, and after popping the question to Laura (Penelope Cruz), he gets lured in by a one-time deal to set him and his fiancé up for life. He schemes with old buddies (or former clients?) the larger-than-life Reiner (Javier Bardem) and rootin’ tootin’ Westray (Brad Pitt) to make a quick buck by slingin’ drugs across the border. Sounds easy enough right? Wrong. Cue the Mexican cartel and other nasties, and you’ve got yourself a seriously sticky situation.

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From the moment it started, I was mesmerised by the beautiful, bleached-out setting of the Mexican plains — and the cinematography was divine. But it wasn’t just the exterior that was breath-taking, all the interiors — and the clothes — were in a class of their own. From opulent to eccentric, the art department went over and above on this movie. And it paid off, because it really gave us a sense that we were dealing with a different breed of human being. We were watching lavish lifestyles paid for with murky morals.

It will come as no great surprise that the screenplay was delicious — and in typical Cormac McCarthy style it was loaded with the obscurity, and sentimentality we’ve come to know and love. Using his seen-it-all-before tone he carved out what, on the surface, is a simple storyline but made it extraordinary and terrifying by playing on our emotions. Some of the dialogue is spine-tinglingly good and partly responsible for the wearing-down of the rewind button.

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But in the originality and ambiguity of McCarthy’s screenplay lies the movie’s biggest obstacle — and more than likely one the contributing factors as to why it wasn’t the smash hit it should have been.

The screenplay doesn’t spoon-feed us. A.k.a it doesn’t sluggishly lay out the plot for us in the first fifteen minutes, and then unleash all merry hell. In fact, it slowly lulls us into a false sense of security with its tantalising dialogue and interesting characters — which isn’t a bad thing, but in The Counselor’s case it doesn’t help to make clear exactly what is going on. So much so, that if it wasn’t for my brother’s excited running commentary at times I would be completely lost wading through a puddle of Sunny D tans and blinged out Cheetahs. Yes, really.

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But once shit hit the fan, the intensity and terror escalated and The Counselor once again became the high-octane thriller that I expected. There were plenty of you’ve-never-seen-anything-like-this-before moments, and enough twists and turns to keep us enticed — but I was still a bit confused. And, that is never a good thing.

It was around about this point that I thought perhaps The Counselor would have been better off as a book. But then that book would have been transformed into a screenplay, no doubt, because it is undeniably an absorbing story. So, should it have had a different director? But Ridley Scott did a great job of setting the scene, and capturing the intensity. It went astray somewhere, and I’m not sure how or where exactly, but it’s definitely the reason why this wasn’t a box office smash.

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Aside from the tantalising cinematography, my favorite thing about this movie was Cameron Diaz as Malkina. She was the icy, hard bitch in heels delivering wicked one liners and chilling the bones of every path she crossed. It was refreshing to see her in a grittier role, and even more refreshing to see a female role getting to shine without playing second fiddle to a man.

Michael Fassbender, who portrays pain and anxiety like no other, was triumphant as The Counselor — a man who was driven, and destroyed, by his own greed.

Now that I’ve seen the film, (eventually) followed the plot, and seen the ending I’m going to watch it all over again. Purely because the second time around you can relax into it, and enjoy the ride without grappling to understand the directions.

Cormac McCarthy, you’re still the best.

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