When a movie stars five A-list actors, it’s usually either another attempt to create Love Actually or made by David O. Russell. The Counselor is neither of those things, so I had some reservations. However, the two names that piqued my curiosity were director Ridley Scott , director of Alien and Blade Runner, and screenwriter Cormack McCarthy, novelist behind Blood Meridian and No Country For Old Men. While the performances are very good overall, it’s these two creative forces behind the camera that make The Counselor what it is. After a bit too much rising action, the film rewards a patient audience with a great third act that makes the long- winded establishing scenes worth it.
The script, McCarthy’s first, is made up of dialogue-heavy scenes that illustrate each of the characters. These scenes are, until the midpoint, very light on plot and very heavy on character development. While we spend very little time with these characters, we feel as if we’ve spent a television season with them. The direction and cinematography, on the other hand, let the viewer in on just enough to grasp what’s going on but leaves enough for the mind to chew on. These two styles are very different, but together, they create something special. The screenplay comes to life thanks to all of the fantastic performances by the leading men and women. Javier Bardem is a shoe-in for his fourth Academy Award nomination. Michael Fassbender carries the movie very effectively as the title role. The other standout is Cameron Diaz, who has garnered a fair amount of criticism throughout her career but really shines here in a way that makes sense for her reputation.
The Counselor feels very much like a Coen Brothers film. No clean getaways, no innocent characters, no happy endings. In a way, it would have been a better film in their hands, but the dream team of Scott and McCarthy makes this a movie that’s very unique in most ways. Their styles almost clash, but ultimately compliment each other. The film deals a lot in the relationship between power and sex, as represented by the leopards kept by Diaz and Bardem; beautiful, majestic, feral, and ultimately extremely dangerous. The gaudy displays of wealth each character is accompanied by throughout the film is a reminder of their characters, but is consistently kept in the background; the production design is very well put together and illustrative of the greed hidden behind each of the characters’ motives. In one very striking scene in particular, a character makes love to their wealth in a way that encapsulates their ultimate flaws. We recognize their fatal flaw and watch it bring them to their knees, which is ultimately what makes The Counselor such an intriguing watch.