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The Retrial of The Counselor

March 26, 2014

the counselor movie poster

Now that the dust has settled and the critical vitriol has dissipated I think it is a good time to look back at The Counselor. The movie received an unfair “guilty” verdict by the critics and general public upon its release. It was dubbed a failure (34% RT, $16 million total at box-office) and conversation mainly focused on Cameron Diaz’s car antics and dubbed accent. The problem I have is the populace wasn’t looking at the facts and their expectations were incorrect. The Counselor was a hard R-rated film written for the screen by the guy who wrote Blood Meridian and No Country for Old Men. It was never meant to be easy and the violent lyricism was bound to isolate cinephiles from the casual movie goer.

The movie was far from a failure. I appreciated the monologues and all-in cast who dove head first into the dialogue. The simplicity of the narrative and the reflection on crime made sense to me. I wasn’t expecting a crime thriller because I knew of McCarthy’s other works. However, I can understand how a studio would watch this and be absolutely stymied as how to market it. There are no easy outs or gun battles. The main characters don’t find solace or ease of mind. In the end, you are left with quotes like this:

When it comes to grief, the normal rules of wealth do not apply. Because grief transcends value. A man would give entire nations to lift grief off his heart and yet, you cannot buy anything with grief, because grief is worthless.

I love that a bleak, exposition free screenplay by Pulitzer Prize winning Cormac McCarthy made it into the mainstream Hollywood system. The movie is full of wonderful monologues and references to “catfish” that are pleasing to the literary ears. Alex Pappademas of Grantland sums it up perfectly:

The dialogue is often eccentrically beautiful and appears to have been typed with zero consideration of the fact that people would someday have to say all these words out loud

McCarthy’s other books All the Pretty Horses, No Country For Old Men and The Road had the luxury of screenwriters working them into a narrative structure. The Counselor skips the middle man (no saving of the cat) and allows McCarthy’s words to remain unhindered. The problem (to some people) with the unhindered script is it features really good-looking people waxing poetic via archaic words about diamonds, death, grief and women. Nothing goes boom and bodies found in barrels are treated as practical jokes and not horror.

The proceedings can be maddening but the result is a surprisingly effective film that is simple in nature and doesn’t pander to explanatory wormholes. The Counselor has some very funny moments as well. .

For instance, there is a scene where the Counselor is asked to bail a man out of prison. Rosie Perez’s character offers to pay off the $400 cost by giving him a blow job. The Counselor replies: “You’d still owe me $380.” The humor is dark but you appreciate that an 80-year-old writer and 76-year-old director can still bring the dirty laughs.

The lead characters are either in over their heads, willing to stay in the deep end or overly confident that their escape raft won’t sink. They all have Trojan horses and are the epitome of pride coming before the fall. They are playing in a world (Mexican drug cartels) that doesn’t respond well to failure and their success makes them feel bullet proof.

The Counselor should get a second chance. It gave the world something different and provides many memorable moments. It is a gritty glimpse into McCarthy’s world of seedy characters and deadly environments that was unfairly judged.


4 Comments leave one →
  1. March 26, 2014 8:26 am

    Good review. The cast is not all that bad and really makes this showwy material worth listening to. Except for whenever Diaz is on-screen. She’s just terrible here.

  2. March 27, 2014 3:14 pm

    I’ve been debating every time I pick out a movie whether or not to watch this – I love McCarthy and the cast looked great but I’ve held back because of the critics. Maybe I’ll check it out tonight, I just need to pull the trigger. Nice review!

    • March 27, 2014 3:33 pm

      It is worth it. At the very least it is something different. I think expectations and copious monologues hurt it. Let me know what you think when you watch it.

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