Monday, November 4, 2013

The Counselor: Cinematically Correct -- Ridley Scott's Fatefully Flawed Filmed

The Counselor ~ The Cast | A Constantly Racing MindD irector Ridley Scott, novelist, and now screenwriter Cormac McCarthy have joined to bring to the screen one shocking tale of sex and drugs that I have seen in a long time.  The Counselor treads into areas of humanity that most people would rather not tread.  Cormac McCarthy's original screenplay looks at the dark and twisted side of human nature.  "The Counselor" has an all-star cast of the likes of Michael Fassbender ("Prometheus," "Shame"), Penélope Cruz ("Vanilla Sky," "Blow"), Javier Bardem ("No Country for Old Men," "Skyfall"), Brad Pitt ("Mr. & Mrs. Smith," "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"), and Cameron Diaz ("Vanilla Sky," "The Box").  While the cast turns in strong performances, Ridley Scott works hard to make McCarthy's bumpy script work in delivering a story about the consequences of the decisions that we make.  There are no do-overs in this one.  Some strange scenes and hilarious dialog go on in "The Counselor" that makes this film worth watching.  "The Counselor" is rated R for the violence, the language, the sexual content and runs just under two hours.

“A diamond announces a woman's frailty while enhancing her beauty.”

Living in El Paso, the man who only goes by his title of Counselor (Fassbender) finds himself in debt, and decides to invest in a drug trafficking venture with Reiner (Bardem), his flamboyant and shady business partner.  Needless to say, the deal goes bad pretty quickly and things get pretty bad for most of the cast.  I must say, that the opening scene came off as unexpectedly crude in-spite of the excellent cinematography invoking a dreamy, sensual atmosphere.  The Counselor and his girlfriend, Laura (Cruz), are literally under the white, flowing sheets having a bit of raunchy pillow talk, which turns quickly to the Counselor having oral sex with Laura.  Since Fassbender's role as Brandon in 2011's "Shame," I found him in this role expected.  Cruz on the other hand was unnerving.  Opening the film with this scene lets the audience know that the boundaries in this film are about to stretch, perhaps a bit too far.  The Counselor enjoys a very stylish life and dresses to show it.  He also likes expensive things.  In fact, the Counselor takes a trip to Europe to purchase an expensive 3.5 caret diamond from Bruno Ganz ("Unknown," "The Reader") with a color rating around a "g" or an "h.”  The closer to the letter "a" in the alphabet, the letter is the more clear it is.  Ganz's performance as the diamond dealer serves as our first warning that life is precarious, and decisions matter.  Although he is just selling diamonds, his tone is cautionary and foreboding, and with a certain matter of fact attitude.  Upon returning to Texas, he proposes to Laura over dinner at an upscale local restaurant.

The Counselor ~ Cameron Diaz - Penelope Cruz | A Constantly Racing Mind

"Smart women are an expensive hobby."

As a lawyer, he has many sketchy clients that he can call upon to help with his money problems.  He turns to Bardem's character, Reiner who lives an extravagant lifestyle with his girlfriend Malkina (Diaz).  As the first part of her name "Mal" implies, there is something wrong with her.  Laura represents the idea of today's perfect woman, beautiful, but modest, she is cautious about her sexuality, but willing to go let with the one she loves.  While Malkina is the seductress whose purpose in life is to corrupt men's souls, destroy their lives, and eat them for breakfast.  Her moral values cause even Reiner to question his involvement with her.  In the scene where, after contemplating his money problems, the Counselor meets with Reiner, he asks if Reiner's office is safe to talk.  Reiner replies that he doesn't know, that it might be bugged, and then finally that it probably wasn't.  Giving the audience the impression, that something is going to go wrong.  Reiner, with his spiked hair, flamboyant clothes, and general odd demeanor makes his "Skyfall" character a little saner.  He warns the Counselor that once he is in with this deal, there is no turning back and that there will be consequences if it fails.

"Men are drawn to flawed women.  Men think they can fix them.  Women don't want to fix anything; they just want to be entertained."

Reiner is a conflicted character.  He isn't conflicted about his lifestyle, his business with drugs, or the vibe he gives off.  He is very comfortable with those aspects of his life.  No, Reined is conflicted about the woman he loves; and that would be Malkina.  When we see the two together in an early scene, Malkina is in the desert, on a horse, racing a cheetah (Reiner and Malkina are eccentrics).  Like the cat, Malkina, too is like an animal, feline, she likes the chase, she likes the hunt, there is no good or evil in it, it is what the elegant, and graceful cheetahs do.  Thus, the dilemma, Reiner is so deeply infatuated with Malkina -- it hurts.  However, more significantly, his love for this woman will take him (willfully?) to his end.  When relating the incident of Malkina having sex with his Ferrari, he is not only shocked and disturbed he is violated by it.  Yes, that is what I said; she had sex with the windshield of Reiner's car, while Reiner sits in the car, aghast watches disturbed as he views the spectacle from the passenger's side. The role of Malkina is one of a psychopath, a very beautiful one.  She is clever, smart, and disturbing.  She reeks of sex, and her charms work on both men and women.  However, like a demonic succubus, Diaz does this role justice.

The Counselor ~ Brad Pitt - Micael Fassbender | A Constantly Racing Mind

Brad Pitt plays a Texan whose name is Westray.  His role in the drug deal is a little less clear.  His dialog with the Counselor tends to wax philosophical amidst of his on screen time.  Not that much of what he says makes much sense.  Although Westray is able to get across to the Counselor a warning about getting involved with the Mexican cartels; does the Counselor heed any of the warnings?  No, he doesn't.  Each of the warnings given to him by his partners is both grisly and unique.  Chekhov's gun rule applies here, as all of these aforementioned warnings of gruesome deaths will eventually come to pass.

Having an all-star cast is a definite draw for this film.  But, having all of these great actors in a film that follows none of the typical storytelling traditions, where the editing fails to serve the story, set the pace, but instead only confuses the audience with no apparent pay off in the end.  The drug deal is poorly explained and leaves the audience disorients them even more.  Fassbender's character of the Counselor would be considered tragic in most stories, whereas here, he is just a plain fool.  In spite of strong performances, the under developed characters Ridley Scott does his best to piece this thing together cinematically.  For example, one moment we are in a hotel in Boise Idaho, and the next, I am assuming we are in Mexico walking into an embassy.  It took me a moment to figure that out, if that is where he was.  Near the end of "The Counselor," the Jefe (Rubén Blades) of a drug cartel gives a long and convoluted dissertation on the philosophy of fate and the acceptance of ones consequences.  Quoting the Spanish poet Antonio Machado, Blades rambles on about accepting the death of a loved one, leading the audience deeper into bewilderment.

The Counselor ~ Javier Barder | A Constantly Racing Mind

Cinematically and musically, the film is excellent.  The performances are charismatic and solid, but the writing is weak which leads to choppy editing and scenes of confusion.  As much as I admire and respect Scott, I didn't care much for "The Counselor.”  I was left confused downer of a film and although the message was ultimately clear and simple: Sometimes you must face the consequences of your decisions and although you are willing to accept your fate, the ones you love the most are too affected in ways that may be too horrible to imagine

Movie Data

Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Year:  2013
Staring: Michael Fassbender, Penélope Cruz, Penélope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt
Director: Ridley Scott
Producer(s): Paula Mae Schwartz, Steve Schwartz, Ridley Scott,Nick Wechsler, Cormac McCarthy
Writer: Cormac McCarthy
Rating: R
Release Date: 10/25/2013
Running Time: 117 minutes

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