Overly complicated, overly messy, but still a slick, stylish slice of dark entertainment
Traditionally dark, bleak and relentlessly oppressive Cormac McCarthy, as seen through the lens of stylish filmmaking perfectionist Ridley Scott.The Counsellor chronicles the ramifications of a drug deal gone wrong, and the lengths that the drug cartel go to in order to recover their product and/or punish those they feel responsible. Although the lead character is referred to as ‘The Counsellor’ throughout the piece, it’s a meaningless title, and has little to do with his actual profession. Indeed, he might as well have been an accountant – or a landscape gardener – as the ties that bind his profession to the plot are entirely contrived and relatively arbitrary.What is far more important is the fact that he is clearly in over his head; seduced by the lavish lifestyle of his friends, clients and contacts – most notably the eccentric drug dealer Reiner and his mysterious girlfriend Malinka – and determined, due to an unexplained cash flow problem, to invest in a lucrative deal to transport drugs across the border. He’s warned by Reiner, and by the business contact Reiner puts him in touch with, Westray, that the Cartel will be unforgiving should anything go wrong, but he proceeds anyway, even with a beautiful fiancée potentially in the firing line.
It’s hard to like any of Cormac McCarthy’s works. Admire? Sure. Appreciate? Yes. But like? They’re often just too relentless. No Country For Old Men manages to ride the line between being powerful and remorselessly lacking in gratification, where The Road falls down on the latter, driving straight into the bleak abyss head-first.
If you enjoyed The Road then, in a strange sort of way, you might find yourself considerably more tolerant of The Counsellor.
Rather than being based on one of his novels, McCarthy actually wrote the screenplay for The Counsellor himself, and unfortunately this is where some of its biggest flaws emanate from. The story is convoluted; the dialogue is heavy and almost impenetrable; and the characterisations are insubstantial.
That said, the all-star cast do their best to draw you into the murky world of drug cartels - Fassbender doesn't particularly have to stretch himself; Cruz is suitably vulnerable; Bardem and Pitt are having a ball, but it's Diaz who steals the show - and director Ridley Scott hovers over the whole situation displaying his usual consummate professionalism, leaving us with a film that is undeniably compelling – and positively thrilling in several instances – even if most viewers will agree that it simply should have been so much more.
Certainly the Extended Cut – running a substantial 20 minutes longer than the Theatrical Cut – only further exacerbates the wordy dialogue scenario, but it also reinforces one of the few things that McCarthy’s script gets right: the full-circle commentary on consequences, ramifications and the choices we make, arguably making the longer sitting worth it.
Overworked, overcooked and overly complicated, it is also immaculate and impressively-constructed; compelling and often quite thrilling.
If you loved No Country for Old Men – which is wholly justifiable – and appreciated The Road – which is arguably less understandable – then you may end up rating McCarthy’s screenplay debut. There’s certainly plenty to admire, it’s just that movies (with little reward) shouldn’t really be this hard to get through.
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