The Counselor


Release: Friday, October 25, 2013


“If you keep heading down this path, you will eventually come to moral decisions that will take you completely by surprise.”

So forewarns the enigmatic night club owner, Reiner, played by a very colorful Javier Bardem in Ridley Scott’s latest suspense thriller, based on the first original screenplay penned by Cormac McCarthy. He was speaking to Michael Fassbender’s Counselor character in the film, but the line’s also apropos of anyone waiting in line to buy a ticket to see The Counselor, the film itself.

Scott’s latest is the schoolyard bully of fall 2013 releases. Unsparing in its austerity, substitution of prose for dialogue and inclusion of jolting and unsettling violence, his direction demonstrates he’s clearly not over the loss of his brother, Tony — which is certainly an understandable issue. But whereas his finished product simply screams misery, it could have cleverly suggested it (I’ve always felt Scott has been a director of subtlety, even in dealing with profound subjects like in Prometheus) and his counseling, therefore, ain’t a great deal of fun to sit through. The anguish on display makes it nearly impossible for even the most hardy viewer to say ‘well, I had a good time in that movie.’ While that may be sort of true, what they probably mean to say is that some of what they saw was enjoyable, but they couldn’t mean they actually enjoyed watching such suffering for as little payoff as they get in the end.

The Counselor fixates on a man (Fassbender’s character is simply known throughout as the Counselor, a description only slightly less blasé than Gosling’s in Drive) who gets in too deep with the wrong people, taking one job too many and becoming just a little too greedy. He’s meant to be a lawyer representing a variety of different, albeit all wayward clients, who insists he can protect them and get them what they want, though he’s really just in the game for the money for himself (and his soon-to-be-wife, the perpetually aroused Laura, played by Penelope Crúz). When the Counselor becomes involved with a multi-million-dollar drug deal and the deal goes awry, his world starts falling apart in unthinkably brutal ways.

The Counselor is approached by a shady, yet exquisitely dressed middleman representing the Mexican cartel, a man by the name of Westray (Brad Pitt), who presents him the opportunity to gain millions. McCarthy’s writing flusters both the audience and the characters in a scene intended to be pivotal for the rest of the proceedings, but it really just passes by as casually as death does here. This is aided by the fact that the discussions are absolutely loaded with metaphor; steeped in philosophy and ultimately add up to nothing more than “I wouldn’t do this if I were you,” just the kind of cautionary advice you fully expect the Counselor to ignore.

And he does.

We are treated to a whole slew of characters who would be compelling had the writing tried not to be so profound. The most compelling of which has to be Cameron Diaz, playing Reiner’s menacing girlfriend, Malkina. Diaz turns out to be the full embodiment of evil here, what with all those leopard print tattoos and her obsession with Reiner’s pet cheetahs and his Corvette (which she has sex with) — oh yeah, did I mention how misogynistic this movie is as well?

It could be to do with the fact that the director is trudging through some hellish waters here recently in the wake of his brother’s passing, and it may also be attributed to the general gloomy way in which McCarthy has consistently viewed the world. Arguing who is more responsible for the film’s tone coming across as bleak as it has could turn into an all-day affair, though. Point is, The Counselor takes an incredible cast and forces upon it some of the nastiest characterizations audiences have seen this side of Andrew Dominik’s morose political allegory.

Zoning out in this movie will not only be understandable but expected. That is, until you see someone’s carotid artery being sliced open in public, or their finger tips sliced off in the process of trying to remove the wire around their necks that’s causing this bloodletting. The viewer goes from being grossly under-stimulated by a wordy script to being just grossed out by scenes of graphic violence. Between the pretense and the pain, both which punctuate this script like stray bullet holes, the best thing that can be said of The Counselor is that its another extreme case of style-over-substance. The misuse of such a talented cast is what’s really difficult to get over. It’s as though the cast members blindly accepted the fact they would be speaking this legendary writer’s words, taking that reality for what it was regardless of the product his writing would ultimately shape.

Realizing this feels more enlightening than any of the lessons that are supposedly conveyed through such ugliness.


1-5Recommendation: Very little of the film is enticing (except for Diaz’ back tattoos, of course). And when it’s not taking a mean-spirited approach to teaching the forever-sinning Counselor a lesson about being greedy, it’s boring. This movie is a failure on nearly every level, especially considering the talent on this set.

Rated: R

Running Time: 111 mins.

Quoted: “I can’t advise you, counselor.”

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30 thoughts on “The Counselor

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  5. What a shame; had held out some hope for this, especially with Fassbender front and centre and McCarthy on scribe duties. The trailer doesn’t do it many favours to be fair. Sterling work here Tom.


    • wow, I actually was sold on trailers alone. I have no previous experience with McCarthy but my impression here is that he should probably just stick to adaptations of his books into screenplays. But then again, that’s just me. I don’t like leaving a movie more depressed than when I walked into it haha! Thanks so much Mr Fletcher.


  6. Well then, Tom. I have to admit, this is one of your best reviews. Very well written. It’s a shame the movie isn’t as good as this review, even though I will still probably watch it. Good job though!


    • Thanks Nick, really glad to hear that you appreciated it. I struggled a bit coming up with it so I’m glad it paid off in the end. 🙂

      The Counselor is certainly worthy of your view, I’m curious to see if I was just way too harsh here. . .


    • The Counselor is in the running for my favorite casts of 2013 (I think American Hustle might just barely beat it out), so given that this was a huge disappointment. Going in with lowered expectations couldn’t hurt. But having to do so with a Ridley Scott film just seems odd. Anyway, look forward to Terry’s take! 😀


    • Right on, I hope you enjoy it more than I did. I was pretty jazzed about it going in, so the letdown factor really upset me haha. Thanks for reading dude!


  7. I was considering seeing this, but recently just got the feeling it was going to be a dud; Javier Bardem looks to be trying too hard, as does Cameron Diaz. It just looks like it takes itself too seriously, but doesn’t seem to invoke anything original. Of course I cannot say with any kind of certainty since I am yet to see the film, but judging by this review I don’t think I’d want to.


    • You have good instincts man. Going on only the trailers myself, I thought this looked incredible. What a cast. Not to mention, I greatly appreciate Ridley Scott. Not so much a reader of McCarthy (yet, anyway), so I wasn’t aware of how. . . .pessimistic his views are of the world. The Counselor is surprisingly so. I didn’t like it much. So I don’t want to tell people to avoid, but that’s what they’re in for with this, I’m afraid


  8. Well. That’s a very disappointing review. I wasn’t confident this would be good, just watching the trailers, but I sure hoped it would be better than you make it sound.

    Still going to see it, but I consider myself warned.


    • lol see this is what i love about movie reviewing. and I probably should have made it more clear, this was most certainly my own experience with it. I’ve read some rave reviews, and Richard Roeper gave it an A+. There are definitely some elements that I loved about it as well, but man it’s a pretty dark movie. And I personally didn’t get much out of it.

      Look forward to reading your review if you get one up. 🙂


      • That it was your experience is always implied, right?

        I look forward to finding out if my experience is the same, whenever I finally make it to the theater. 😉


  9. Excellent review Tom. I’m disappointed to hear it though. I was hoping this would be up there with the years best, but in all honesty I find Ridley Scott a letdown quite often: American Gangster and Prometheus were massive letdowns for me and I still haven’t really forgiven him for that yet.


    • I am right there with you Mark! Honestly this review was no fun to write, I could not believe the things I was saying about a joint effort between the great Ridley Scott and Cormac McCarthy (which I am less familiar with, but I understand he is. . .or was. . .a great writer). But it was the truth. That’s all that I ever try to do. This movie was a misery, man! 😦


    • Mark, I actually liked “American Gangster”. It wasn’t quite as good as I was expecting, but was good nonetheless. Denzel and Crowe both did a great job acting, and Ruby Dee snagged an Oscar nomination for her performance as Frank’s no-nonsense mother who cut the drug-lord to size when he got out of line. So, yeah, the movie may have been a tad underwhelming, but still had some memorable moments. What was it you didn’t like about it?


      • Yeah, American Gangster was alright Gary but like you say yourself, it was underwhelming. Very underwhelming in my case. I had really high hopes for it and it turned out to be a lot more uneventful than I expected it to be. Washington and Crowe were good as always but the sparks didn’t really flyike they should have. In fact, it sounds like Scott has made the same mistake with The Councillor.


        • Yeah, and now that Idris Elba has merged into a star with a powerful presence you can look back and think they under-utilized him, as well; but perhaps the saving grace for American Gangster is that it was based on a true story, and maybe the film followed the story accurately, and it just didn’t translate on-screen the way some were hoping for. I actually really liked the ending with Lucas confessing everything, and watching Denzel and Crowe in that scene together.


          • It did have positives and the true story element is what kept it interesting enough. That and the impressive cast. Like you say, though, Elba was wasted and so was Chiwetel Ejiofor. He’s another solid actor that I thought didn’t get utilised as well as he could have.


      • I should really get around to seeing American Gangster. I’ve heard nothing but good things about it. But now that I understand it underwhelmed Mark I really need to. Considering my first post on Mark and Tyson’s joint blog — You Talkin’ To Me? — was pretty underwhelming review of The Score. . . . lol


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