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Thursday, 28 November 2013

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Counselor

Directed by: Ridley Scott

Produced by: Ridley Scott
Nick Wechsler
Steve Schwartz
Paula Mae Schwartz

Screenplay by: Cormac McCarthy

Starring: Michael Fassbender
Penelope Cruz
Cameron Diaz
Javier Bardem
Brad Pitt

Music by: Daniel Pemberton

Cinematography by: Dariusz Wolski

Editing by: Pietro Scalia

Studio(s): Scott Free Productions
Nick Wechsler Productions
Chockstone Pictures

Distributed by: 20th Century Fox

Release date(s): October 25, 2013 (United States)
November 15. 2013 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 117 minutes

Country(s): United States
United Kingdom

Language: English

Production budget: $25 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $46, 816, 402

Rightio, so, I have a variety roadshow of different work spots this week, so the reviews will be a bit more sporadic, but I'll still be putting in time to see the movies, so don't feel I'm depriving my work here. On another note, I have the absolute pleasure of having begun another Clive Barker book, Imajica, and though it is a thousand-page plus behemoth, I'm marching through it like a trooper. Barker is a writer of such great prose and has an amazing imagination, with his explorations of spiritualism and sexuality, all done within the context of the horror and fantasy genres, are entire worlds ahead of most. Speaking of Barker, if he ever does a full feature length movie again, I would be first to welcome him back into the fold with open arms. So, for all the latest and greatest in gushing over Clive Barker (and the odd movie review), keep your eyes posted!

Today's movie up for review is The Counselor, a film that developed a bit of a reputation, both before it's release and after. Of course, any film directed by Ridley Scott, visionaire extraordinaire, brings it's own weight to the table. First and foremost though is the fact that it is the first original film screenplay by novelist and playwright Cormac McCarthy, whose work such as Blood Meridian, The Border Trilogy and The Road (in my opinion, one of the greatest novels ever committed to paper), and The Coen Brothers' adaptation of No Country For Old Men won four Oscars, including Best Picture, at the 80th Academy Awards. Not only that, but you have a massive all-star cast assembled around this, and whatever one's opinion is, it can't be denied that The Counselor is a film event of sorts. Speaking of opinions, most shocking perhaps is the critical reception of the film, which has been described as mixed at best, but primarily negative best describes it. With that said, there have been some critics who have stood out from the fold, notably Richard Roeper and Manhola Dargis, while Scott Foundas of Variety wrote an article entitled 'Why The Counselor Is One Of Ridley Scott's Best Films,' so the film does have its defenders. So, context done, brief synopsis: Michael Fassbender plays the titular Counselor, leading a cast including Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Cameron Diaz and Brad Pitt, as he gets over his head in a drug deal along the Juarez/Texas border area, and as things go awry, themes of greed, death, good versus evil and things such as Darwinism, sexuality and what have you are explored. If I sound lazy in explaining that, then good, because I'm not wasting space analysing subjective matters on this column, so shush, and let's ride!

Starting with the good, Ridley Scott is a filmmaker who has, over the course of his lengthy career, had a keen visual aesthetic that has been striking even in his lesser works, and here is no exception. In terms of the atmosphere generated by the lighting, this is more along the lines of the Thelma & Louise's and Gladiator's of the spectrum. Dariusz Wolski, who on Alex Proyas' The Crow and Dark City, and also Scott's own Prometheus, showed he could work well with soft lighting, and here, with sun and sweat abound, Wolski makes this landscape of dust and tumbleweeds fit the mood of the piece. Say what you will about The Counselor (more of which in due time), but I think it would be hard deny that it is a beautifully shot picture. Another little widget I liked about the film (and it's the only thing praiseworthy about the screenplay) is the use of wires in the film. These wires are used in macabre Poe-esque manners, leading to some really gruesome but admittedly ingenious ways to see people die onscreen. Also, though it has problems (again, more of which...), the cast does have their moments. Michael Fassbender is one of those guys who could make watching paint dry seem fascinating, Javier Bardem is always a charismatic screen presence, but the one who stands out here is Cameron Diaz, who is often overlooked as a talent, but gets to do something decent as the proverbial ice queen of the film. Aside from the main cast, you've got others such as Rosie Perez, Natalie Dormer, Edgar Ramirez, Bruno Ganz (a personal favourite actor of yours truly), Toby Kebbell (who really needs more to do) and John Leguizamo all putting up appearances, so even if they don't get significant parts, as in the case of Kebbell, you at least get the pleasure of hearing these talented actors try to make the most of the material they've got. 

I finished that paragraph on an appropriate note, because the fundamental problem with The Counselor, I hate to say, is Cormac McCarthy's script. When McCarthy sold his first spec script, which became this  film, everyone was chomping at the bit, clamouring to work on this potential gold mine by way of the association with the acclaimed author. While I don't doubt people's faculties of judgement, I find it hard to believe that there were that many people who all thought highly of the script. I mean, the dialogue is absolutely horrible, and when most of the movie consists interplays involving this babble, that is a serious issue. Most of the dialogue is written without any pinch of salt and it the movie as a whole carries this excess baggage of something so immersed in it's own sense of self-importance, "oh, we are discussing philosophy in the midst of a drug deal, oh, how profound!" Also, McCarthy's 'exploration' of sexuality is rather inane and simplistic. "Men are from mars and women are from venus, let me tell you a story of how one tried to ride my pen -" is such a poxy thesis, and is another layer to the movie's pseudo-intellectural tomfoolery. Attempting to steep the movie in a brooding atmosphere of eroticism, it culminates in a sequence involving solo masturbation that has to be among the most outrageously stupid things to grace the screens in quite a long time. Indeed, and I make no bones of the fact that I am going to be very rude here, but The Counselor doesn't have it's head up it's arse as much as commits a two-hour long gross act of auto-fellatio. Furthermore, though this is an all-star cast, a lot of them are not really needed in the film and just seem to be throwing their hats in on this one. Penelope Cruz, a very talented actress who has been doing great things in movies in the twenty-plus years since her debut in Jamon Jamon, is given nothing to do but look pretty and be occasionally consolatory to the title character. As mentioned earlier, the mighty Toby Kebbell makes a brief appearance and could pass for an American if it weren't for the fact I knew he was from Yorkshire and it does make you think that if he's making all that effort, surely there should be something meatier in it? While this is a collective mess, I think that some questions should be asked of director Ridley Scott. Say what you will about some of his movies (I've personally reviewed two before this, neither of which were good), he has made some of the most breathtaking masterpieces in Alien, Blade Runner and Gladiator, and even in his shortcomings and failings Scott has compromised himself. Here, I believe he has bowed down to the will of McCarthy, and what this movie needed was the guy who ran roughshod over the set of Blade Runner, breaking the back of cast, crew and executives, because, hey, while there was tension making the film and it took a while, Ridley turned out on of the greatest films of all time. Although the image of two men with the combined age of one hundred and fifty-five is ludicrous, Scott needed to rap McCarthy on the knuckles to produce a more concise draft, as opposed to soliloquy after soliloquy after soliloquy after soliloquy after soliloquy... The movie ends on a similar note to There Will Be Blood, both in terms of tone and dialogue, and the line is perhaps one of the worst examples of self-reflexivity in recent memory, given that it not only invokes a great movie and contemporary masterwork, but also the line itself describes, in little words, just how you feel coming out of The Counselor. 

Don't get me wrong, The Counselor is by no means an absolute stinker. It's an undeniably well-shot movie by Dariusz Wolski, who at least gives it some sort of a hot, seamy, sweaty atmosphere, there are some Poe-esque moments of the macabre involving wires, and though it doesn't add up to much, there is a novelty factor in seeing some great actors come onscreen and do a relatively interesting dialogue. However, it is still a rubbish picture, with the key problem laying on the buckled base that is Cormac McCarthy's script, a muddled piece of pseudo-intellectual babble and a befuddled thesis on eroticism and sexuality, with many of the great cast members not being given a whole of character to play around with. It goes on and on and on, and Ridley Scott has put out some not especially interesting movies in the past, but I've never seen him deliver something so compromised and sloppy as The Counselor. The Scott Foundas article I mentioned earlier (which I will link at the bottom of the article) makes reference to how Blade Runner was received on initial release. While I will respect his opinion, I feel that in the case of Blade Runner what we got was a compromised version of the film at that time, and when the real (more human than human?) '92 Director's Cut came out, it was rightly recognised as a masterpiece. Unless a massively different cut of this film emerges ten years down the line, I don't see The Counselor being remembered for anything but a curiosity at best, but perhaps more likely an anomaly with all the pedigree that turned out to be dull as dishwater.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 3.3/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Grateful (this review is finished. It took two or three days because I found it hard to confront this again!)

P.S. On a side note, The Odeon Cinema in Belfast's digital projector failed much of the way through the film. All I have to say is that if it was a 35mm projector with a fully-trained operating projectionist it would have been a minor blip in a frame, as opposed the the whole furore caused by ON tripping to OFF. I rest my case...

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