Sunday, July 27, 2014

No Country For Old Counselors: Ridley Scott's The Counselor

Movie Review: The Counselor

Director: Ridley Scott

Reviewed: 17 July 2014

jamesintexas rating--***1/2

Cormac McCarthy is one of my favorite authors of all-time, and The Counselor pairs his first ever screenplay with the visual flair of director Ridley Scott. The result is a surprisingly haunting series of philosophical conversations between two characters punctuated by scenes of grotesque and intense violence all set against the backdrop of the modern day border between Mexico and the United States. If 1980 was the time of No Country For Old Men and Tommy Lee Jones's sheriff Ed Tom Bell realizing his impotence in the face of the growing border violence, The Counselor is its contemporary aftermath, its promise of reckoning in a world where the cartel wields unspeakable, nearly mythical power. We are left watching the criminals squabble and scurry against each other, and one wrong decision can led to the abyss.

The Counselor (Michael Fassbender) loves his fiancee Laura (Penelope Cruz), jets to Europe to buy her a diamond engagement ring, swims in the world of criminals as their lawyer, but when he finally chooses to get into the drug trafficking business with club owner Reiner (Javier Bardem), things fall apart. A drug courier goes missing; a jailed mother asks for a favor; something ferocious is set in motion that cannot be stopped. The center cannot hold. Reiner and girlfriend Malkina (Cameron Diaz) are the kinds of people who sit on blankets in the desert watching their pet cheetahs attack jackrabbits. Westray (Brad Pitt), himself a shady businessman offers his own counsel about crossing the threshold with these forces. The Counselor finds himself in over his head in every possible way.

With its talky, philosophical structure and multiple reveals, The Counselor may best reward a second viewing because it takes until the final scene to understand all that has come before. I was interested in its red and purples, its liminal states between day and night along border roads, its gallows humor regarding a cartel shipment, and its deep conversations, particularly one with the mysterious god-like Jefe (Ruben Blades) who tells the Counselor enigmatically, "You are the world that you have created." The conversation seems a natural extension of ones held by Anton Chigurh in No Country For Old Men. "Call it," Chigurh would have said, but the Counselor's choices have imprisoned him far beyond the reach of any form of chance or hope.

The Counselor is a brutally harsh film with a performance from Fassbender that conveys terror but also distance. There is a scientific, almost clinical dispatching of characters and violence as we watch pieces swept from the chessboard with expediency. "Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world / The blood-dimmed tide is loosed" as the Yeats states in his poem "The Second Coming," and no one can hold the floodgates back. I found its ending astonishing, as well as the multiple meanings of the title. Whose counsel does one trust?

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