Film review: THE COUNSELOR, 2013

It is safe to assume that any film directed by Ridley Scott will be stylish, sophisticated, brilliantly crafted and immersive. And a spoiler alert: this is a Cormack McCarthy screenplay. Therefore it is safe to assume that “heads will roll”. It is both gorgeous and at times truly grisley. This is a beautifully-hued noir film which mostly takes place in Ciudad Juarez, the capital of drug violence and dirty money. The city seems to be somewhat schizophrenic as there are a lot of locations of glitz and gaudy glamour (who knew?) as well as the predictable down and gritty.

It opens with an extended lovemaking scene between Michael Fassbinder (the counselor) and his girlfriend, Penelope Cruz. Then come the credits. As erotic and explicit as this opening is - everything that follows makes it look like a Disney film. The counselor, a savvy but straight lawyer who has, by virtue of his work, defended a lot of shady characters. They are a fascinatingly quirky group of miscreants. Javier Bardem plays a hilariously unhinged nightclub owner who is completely enthralled by his provocative and highly creative sex-crazed girlfriend, played by Cameron Diaz, as a take-no prisoners vamp. Brad Pitt plays a cynical, nihilistic loner. He is a cowboy-styled low life.

When the counselor decides to make the fatal decision to cross the line and put himself into a “one-time-only” big drug deal with this unsavory lot, the whole trajectory of his life goes radically amok. His innate decency and naivete renders him unequal to this amoral, violent and ruthless group. So when the deal falls through, everyone else knows they are in huge trouble from the big guys but he is a bit clueless. When the chips begin to fall things get truly nasty. Who is doing what to whom and why - are questions which never get answered. All we really know is that there are parallel sories going on which are all somehow part of the same tangled web and nobody escapes unscathed, if at all.

When the film abruptly ends, I whispered out loud. “Well, I am completely clueless.” The good news is that there will be plenty to talk about post film as everyone will want to put forth a theory or hope that someone else can shed some light. I was reminded of The Usual Suspects and David Mamet’s The Spanish Prisoner. There is a lot of stilted dialog which often sounds like it is saying something, but in retrospect is not so much. Scott is so skilled at controlling the mood and the sense of dread and danger around any corner that your stomach will be in knots. Michael Fassbinder does a beautiful job of portraying a man who realizes he has totally ruined his life with one bad decision and nothing will ever be the same.

Review by Belle McIntyre 


Thomas Demand: "Dailies" at Mathew Marks Gallery