The Counselor 2013 ★★★★

75/100

Recipe for a movie that'll piss people off: Jacobean + Euclidean + Hegelian. Can't really fault anyone for hating this (Andrew O'Hehir just tweeted "The Counselor isn't merely terrible. It may be the worst movie ever made"), but its pitiless anti-narrative played for me like a pure, uncut version of No Country, one without the hand-wringing old men. Was only bothered by the philosophizing at first, when I (naturally) assumed it would be occasional and intrusive; once it completely took over the movie, with the entire supporting cast turning unapologetically logorrheic, rolling with it wasn't hard.

"But what's the point?!" Just a portrait of hubris, really. This'll sound kinda bizarre, but The Counselor is essentially the same story as Jurassic Park (more the novel than the film): Various smart people foolishly imagine they can control the uncontrollable, but something utterly unforeseen occurs and all hell breaks loose, which inevitability is explained in detail via pompous monologues spoken by characters who despite their superior understanding are in the same world of shit as everyone else. McCarthy just takes it to its natural conclusion. And since I'm the kind of person who'd rather wonder why someone's measuring the height of a motorcycle than watch rampaging CGI dinosaurs, this movie is "fun" to me, in its grim, fatalistic way.

Also, I keep seeing people refer to the story as overly complicated and impossible to follow. No. It's simply irrelevant. As in All Is Lost—a title that would work just fine here as well—everything that isn't absolutely essential has been tossed overboard, including most niceties of characterization. It doesn't really matter who the Counselor is, and it certainly doesn't matter why he's in a bind or how the deal works. Everyone in the movie is a corpse before it even begins. (Hence the opening scene of bodies completely hidden underneath sheets—McCarthy actually wrote the entire scene this way, even noting that the dialogue should be subtitled as their voices would be muffled. Speaking of hubris.) We get only such information as we need to comprehend that what befalls them is to some degree just bad luck. And Scott does an expert job of conveying the necessary, mostly non-verbal details (starting with that stunning biker-to-bedroom transition), even as he mostly serves McCarthy's vision with rare major-auteur humility.

Two sizable reservations:

1. Cameron Diaz. Given the nature of her big setpiece, it seems absurd to complain that she's over-the-top, but Malkina's predatory nature doesn't come naturally to her, and the strain is really evident. I'm not generally keen on Angelina Jolie but she would have been a much better fit. Better still: Charlize Theron. (Sidenote: As written, the car-fucking is only told, not seen. Shooting it that way would have deprived the movie of its main talking point, but would also have made it seem less misogynistic.)

2. McCarthy gets a little cute with the Chekhov's Gun stuff. I'd have been perfectly happy with the bolito being described but not employed, and with the DVD being delivered but not foreshadowed. At most, connect the dots with just one. Both is too neat, bordering on glib. (At least the Counselor doesn't cue up the DVD just to be sure.)

But I'd happily watch it again right now for the sheer pleasure of the badinage, which I find it hard to believe the haters can't appreciate on any level. And there's so much great stuff that didn't even make it into the movie. (You can easily find the script online.)

WESTRAY: Counselor.
COUNSELOR: Hey.
WESTRAY: How are you?
COUNSELOR: I'm okay. Is this a place where you hang?
WESTRAY: Never been here in my life.
COUNSELOR: So how did you pick it?
WESTRAY: I opened the Yellow Pages to Bar.

And there you have it.

22 Comments

  • In the sense of proceeding inexorably from a set of axioms.

  • I don't think that dramatizing the Ferrari flashback made the scene/movie any more misogynistic; the "catfish" comment set that bar as low as it was going to go. More than that, I don't think the scene, with or without the flashback, tips the misogyny scale; it rests comfortably within Reiner's comment about women not permitting boredom. (One's something a character says and one's something the author believes enough to portray, but all in all the movie does very little to disabuse us from Reiner's point of view.)

  • Did you read the screenplay all the way through, Mike? How much it has changed?

  • I've only skimmed it so far. A lot was cut (there were even more monologues!), but what's in the film is pretty much exactly what McCarthy wrote.

  • Okay, *I* can't easily find the script online. Nudge in the right direction?

  • Just sent it to you. Also don't think I didn't notice that your rating suddenly jumped from 3 to 4 stars!

  • It wasn't that suddenly! It was the next day, after I'd had a think. (I probably didn't update it on Letterboxd right away.)

  • ...it's even possible for people to like this film?

  • This is definitely my kind of movie. Bad (and some good) people doing bad things intentionally and paying the price for their actions. But I totally understand why this movie is disliked. It's *extremely* dark, and film noir does not appeal to most people.

  • An extremely delicious review for a delicious film. Cheers Mike. Keep walking.

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