Cormac McCarthy is the latest ‘great’ writer to attempt a fling with the screenwriting trade (Charles Bukowski and William Faulkner notably before him). His toes were already wet—in 2011 his novel No Country For Old Men was adapted into basically every critics favourite movie of the year. Coupled with The Road, plus numerous smaller titles before it, Hollywood was desperate for an original script by the lauded novelist. The Counselor is his reply.
And reply he has. Reactions to The Counselor have been incredibly divisive with most of the weight milling around the negative deep end of the pool. Most of the reactions focus on the nihilistic aspects of the film, deeming it a bad thing. Such a criticism is unexplained however: complaining about this in a McCarthy universe is like complaining a porno has too much sex. Cameron Diaz does however have sex with a windshield in one scene but that’s just funny.
Directed by Sir Ridley Scott and starring five of the biggest actors in recent years, McCarthy’s script plays out like someone who has never read a 101 manual on screenwriting before. It’s a daring piece that breaks all the rules we’ve come to expect and should be appreciated as such. The story is a familiar one—drug deal gone bad—but the consequent playing out isn’t so familiar, more a hashing of regret.
Fassbender leads the charge as the Counselor, a man without a name. He’s not quite the badass that Clint Eastwood portrayed back in the 70s. The 21st century Man With No Name is a one percentile: lawyer, hot girlfriend, stinking rich. So rich he doesn’t know what to do with it. Solution? He invests in a drug sale as a means of increasing his capital. This is his big mistake; it’s oft explained throughout the second half of the film but comes across like a parent tut-tutting a child, not the gargantuan encyclopaedic Delillo-esque scolding it thinks it is.
At the centre of all of this is the writer himself, having a blast behind the keyboard. It’s his tale of drug wrongs through the lens of a diamond. As the diamond dealer says to the Counselor, “at our noblest, we announce to the darkness we will not be diminished by the brevity of our lives.” It’s said in context to what a stone means for a person, serving as inspiration for endless wonder. With regards to the inner workings of the film however it’s an entirely different manner.
Characters work on their own terms. There’s no boss except if someone is paying them. The Counselor himself seeks guidance through Westray, an ultra-cool Brad Pitt, and even he is telling the lawyer to second guess the advice he’s offering. The most jaded yet slickest of them all, Reiner (Javier Bardem in a ton of hair gel), spends his time discussing the meaning of women and discounts anything he’s been told otherwise. These men and women aren’t here to unify. They’re working for the most selfish profit of all: money.
Dean Norris makes a surprise cameo later in the film as a drug player. He’s explained how the drugs are being shipped around in this latest batch in 44-gallon drums and one of them opens the deliberate extra drum containing a body for later dumping. He’s part horrified but mildly interested, almost amused by the extent of the whole operation. McCarthy is offering us a similar trip with this uber-cool tale. Not everyone will like it but those that are willing to will find a gluttony of horrific amusement within.
[rating=3] and a half
Nicholas Brodie - follow Nick on Twitter here: @fodusempire