Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Counselor (2013)

When discussing The Counselor with various friends over the weekend, I definitely got the feeling that this is one of those times where you're either going to "get it" or not.  I fell somewhere in the middle, which kind of shits on my own point.  There were many aspects I liked and appreciated, and then at other times I was scratching my head.  It's interesting to note that I saw a couple walk out after about 20 minutes, which to be fair, doesn't seem like you're giving it much of a chance.  If you asked that couple what The Counselor was about, they wouldn't have been able to tell you much of anything.

Therein lies the issue I think many are going to have with The Counselor.  What's it about?  What was it trying to say?  I've often complained about films that spoon feed the plot or hold your hand through every little detail.  I like a little ambiguity and having to figure things out on my own.  The Counselor might have a little too much ambiguity for its own good.

Michael Fassbender plays the titular "Counselor". In fact, taking a page from Layer Cake (a favorite film of mine), I don't think he's ever referenced by an actual name.  After one of many lengthy conversations with his friend Reiner (Javier Bardem), the Counselor decides to get involved in a large cocaine deal.  The deal goes wrong, the Mexican cartels blame him, and now he and just about everyone he knows is in danger.

Throwing a wrench into all of this is Reiner's girlfriend, Malkina (Cameron Diaz), who appears to be behind the deal going wrong.  I was never quite sure of her motivation unless she secretly hated everyone she knew and wished them harm.  She also had a cheetah fetish, which I didn't know if was some metaphor I didn't get, or just a random character trait given to her.  Depending on your perspective, there's sexy/bizarre scene where she has sex with a car.  Even the Reiner acknowledges the randomness of it when he recounts the story to the Counselor.

Lack of motivation is something I struggled with through much of The Counselor.  Why was a particular scene in the film?  Why are these people doing these things?  There are scenes that are almost entirely in Spanish, but not subtitled.  Was knowing Spanish a requirement?  If it wasn't a requirement that you understood what was being said, then what was the point?  When the Counselor and Westray (Brad Pitt) meet, they order a Heineken.  Don't they have better taste in beer?  Okay, that last point's probably a nitpick.  As I mentioned before, I don't mind having to figure things out on my own, but it started to become a chore after a while, and I found myself not caring about what was going on as a result.  Even when things were explained, I didn't find it to be very satisfying.  It was also devoid of any kind of drama or tension.

Another element I had an issue with was the dialog.  While there are a few great conversations, there were others that had me going, "Huh?  What in the hell are you talking about?"  There's some very philosophical and symbolic dialog that was a little laborious to listen to. Who talks like this?  If this had been directed at me, I would have asked why they can't just speak directly and get to the point.  Apparently this was Cormac McCarthy's (No Country for Old Men, The Road) first screenplay, and I think he might have tried a little too hard to be smart and heady.

If you're worried that I'm spoiling details, I don't think you'll find that to be an issue.  The Counselor does a lot of foreshadowing, and certain moments were very predictable.  The irony is that some of the most predictable scenes were the ones I enjoyed the most.  There are some very inventive deaths that rival many horror films.

Perhaps I had my hopes set too high when I saw that Ridley Scott was directing.  This was one of my more highly anticipated films of the year and I can't help but feel disappointed.  It's not all bad though.  The film has a very slick look and is very well acted.  Bardem is always interesting in everything he's in, and there were moments where I thought Fassbender was doing his finest work.  Brad Pitt and Penelope Cruz aren't in it very much, but Pitt seemed to be having the most fun of the bunch.  If there was any weak performance, I thought it was with Cameron Diaz.  Her attempt at a cold, sexy demeanor came off as kind of flat and lifeless.  It's just not enough that I really like the cast, I have to care about characters and story.

The Counselor is the very definition of a mixed bag.  For every thing I liked about it, there was another thing I disliked.  This is one of those films that's going to divide audiences and likely spark some debate, which isn't a bad thing.  Having said that, if you're interested in seeing The Counselor, I'd recommend you rent it in the event you're in the dislike group.

2.5 (out of 5) Death Stars


  1. Heh, yeah, I was one of those who got this one, and while watching it, I actually thought the movie may have been showing its hand a little too much at times. Turns out I was wrong on that front, lol. :P

    And as for scenes that appear random, I know what you're talking about, and in most cases they woulda bothered the crap outta me in just about any other movie, yet here they really did work I felt. They just added in so many layers to the world and the characters being built all throughout, and really helped support the movie in their various ways. And a lot of them seem far less random on a second viewing, in which you'll pick up on a LOT of subtleties in these scenes that add to the bigger picture as a whole.

    As for the lack of subtitles, I mentioned in my own review how the film almost plays out more like a stage production than a movie, and I think that really helped that vibe, as you wouldn't be able to see subtitles if you were watching this as a play. Besides, it was easy enough to figure out what they were talking about in these scenes anyways I felt. But yeah, the dialogue is definitely gonna be a love it or hate it aspect of this film, so I can definitely see that.

    In any event, I feel I've rambled on enough for now, lol. I can definitely acknowledge that this movie won't be for everyone, but I can certainly appreciate you at least giving this the benefit of the doubt, as opposed to the absolute scathing beatings its receiving pretty much everywhere else. So definitely a good review, I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this one, Erik. :)

    1. Thanks for the perspective and comments, Chris. This is definitely one of those films I can see sparking some serious debate.

      I've always found it interesting how different people can notice some of the same things, but have wildly different feelings on what worked or didn't, or what it meant to them. A lot of times with me it simply comes down to my mood or frame of mind when watching it. I can totally see watching this again on DVD and having a different opinion after having more time to reflect and chew on it.

      I've seen some of those negative reviews and think they are being a little harsh. It's not like this is a trainwreck. I liked a lot of things about the film, but I guess maybe many had much different expectations.

      Anyway, thanks again for the comments and I'm sure we'll be chatting again soon. :)