Heads, Limbs, and Lady Parts: Ridley Scott and Cormac McCarthy's "The Counselor"
From the unexpected amount of silence surrounding The Counselor–no advance screenings, no reviews days before its release, no award buzz, and a couple incomprehensible trailers–one could infer that it’s a stinker. It would seem that the perfecting camera-eye of director Ridley Scott, working with a big name cast (Michael Fassbender, Cameron Diaz, Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt), hampers Pulitzer Prize-winner and first-time screenwriter Cormac McCarthy’s prose talents with excessive gloss, and 20th Century Fox has itself a big turd. This would tack on another stumble for the prestigious 75-year-old Sir Ridley, whose ability to impeccably create images is matched by his consistency in acquiring good casts and large budgets with ambivalent results: in days of yore, see the original cut ofBlade Runner, Legend, Black Rain, 1492: Conquest of Paradise, White Squall, GI Jane, and Hannibal. More recently, there’s the original cut of Kingdom of Heaven, A Good Year, American Gangster, Body of Lies, Robin Hood, and of course, the mother of all middling movie reactors, Prometheus.
But while The Counselor invites derision with its dreary worldview (courtesy of McCarthy) and flashy decadence (hallmark of the one-time commercial director Scott), its uniformly unlikable characters speaking dialogue of cryptic parables, and its anomalous stand-alone scenes that have little apparent function other than feeding into its morose refrains of “Nothing,” this is Scott’s most wholly satisfying film in some time, an unnerving slow-burn nail-biter with nearly an hour of impending storm clouds and omens of violent death before the heads start to (literally) roll. A contemporary Kardashian-lit cousin to No Country for Old Men, the Coens’ McCarthy adaptation which Scott seems to know is impossibly formidable competition, The Counselor‘s apocalyptic joyride into a lavish inferno of well-off folks looking to make a quick buck (or $20 million) is of the same jittery DNA as Scott’s classic sci-fi horror breakthrough,Alien (1979), similarly featuring a cast getting picked off one by one. As with the xenomorph alien, McCarthy’s Death is not malicious, and that’s precisely what makes the barbarity more disconcerting. The titular Counselor (Fassbender–we never hear the character’s actual name), whose desire to pad his passionate romance with beautiful Laura (Penelope Cruz) leads him to invest with the drug trade, is given disgusting corporeal descriptions of how cartels do away with problem people–3,000 dead last year in Juarez alone. But “the violence is just business, there’s no smoldering rage beneath it.” Murder is simply the perfunctory predatory instinct of hungry capitalism.