The Counselor continues to affirm my theory that you can always trust a Ridley Scott movie to be incredibly well directed, with a level of polish and attention to detail that few films bear. You can also always trust a Ridley Scott movie to feature great performances from its leading actors. In my experience, it seems that the key element which goes to really determining the enduring quality of one of Scott’s productions is almost always the screenplay. When armed with a killer story, Ridley works cinematic magic – just look at Alien, Blade Runner and Gladiator to name a few! The opposite is also true.
And so your enjoyment of The Counselor is likely to largely depend upon how well you can stomach and digest its dense story, based on a wordy screenplay by American novelist Cormac McCarthy. Now, I’m no authority on McCarthy, but his novels have been turned into movies like No Country for Old Men and The Road. These were bleak, depressing, nihilistic and very anti-Hollywood in style and construction, and the same is true for this movie based on McCarthy’s very first screenplay.
On the face of it, the story is simple enough: a lawyer known only as the Counselor (Michael Fassbender) gets in over his head when he attempts a one-time drug deal in order to pay for the ridiculously large diamond fastened to his fiancée’s engagement ring. The deeper the Counselor finds himself in this world, the more lost he becomes – and the more lost many viewers will become in the overarching plot. Indeed, The Counselor might be a movie but its screenplay reads like a novel, with the front half of the film being composed primarily of seemingly random scenes of two characters talking. Big words are used and metaphors are made but it’s only after a certain grisly head and shoulders moment that the narrative builds some steam.
A bit like Tarantino however, I found McCarthy to have a knack for writing compelling dialogue even if I wasn’t always sure of the immediate topic’s relevance to the wider story. Never before have I seen catfish used to elicit so much laughter from an audience! In a similar vein, The Counselor features an original and obvious Chekhov’s Gun that reappears in the year’s most memorable, gruesome and outlandish death scene. With outstanding performances from Fassbender, Javier Bardem and the rest of the cast, and with the weight and texture that only Ridley Scott can provide, The Counselor is a terrific technical showcase but its dense story isn’t for everybody.
The Counselor is a polarising but refreshing experience that invites you to lose yourself in its rabbit hole.