THE COUNSELOR has been comprehensively drubbed by the film reviewing community, recalling Roger Ebert's seminal review of Vincent Gallo's THE BROWN BUNNY, along the lines of "I've had colonoscopies that were more funny." And just as I really liked THAT film, I actually rather like THE COUNSELOR. Or rather, I should say that I'm fascinated by why people are so horrified by it. It's not that I enjoyed watching it so much as I enjoyed all the provocations it presented as I watched it.
The movie opens with and maintains a rather opaque narrative style - a mash-up of abstruse conversations in beautifully designed international locales inter-cut with grungy Mexican drug runners pushing a truck full of cocaine disguised as human shit over the US border. The Counselor of the title is a naive but greedy lawyer (Michael Fassbender) who is defined his love of the equally naive Laura (Penelope Cruz). The Counselor works for Reiner - a flamboyant drug dealer and club owner played by Javier Bardem as a cross between Brian Grazer and Brad Pitt in Twelve Monkeys. Which is weird because Brad Pitt also stars in the film as a kind of a redneck magus, who tries to wise the Counselor up, but to little avail. The plot, such as it is, sees someone hijack the drug shipment and pin it on our crew, which violent and grim consequences.
|Bardem does Grazer's fright wig|
The moral of the story, is that there are no morals. There's just the hunt. This is a fascist world in which weakness, and flamboyance, and hubris are brought low in a manner that is so foul and evil as to be shocking. The moral is that you should not be shocked. There is a brutal simplicity and fascination in seeing faceless men pull off brutal procedural heists. But also something bewildering about seeing actors such as Toby Kebbell and Natalie Dormer pop up in small roles that hint at something more fascinating that isn't given a chance to develop.
Anyone looking for the redemptive final act of Cormac McCarthy's sublime novel, The Road, is looking in vain. And critics who have panned the film have typically blamed McCarthy for forcing this word-heavy, abstract, opaque script on a high quality cast and director. I disagree. This is like a sleazy B-movie filtered through an art-house lens - as grungy and elliptical as Raymond Chandler - as absurd and meaningless and provocative. As an example, I'd give you the notorious scene in which Reiner's wonderfully unapologetic and spiky girlfriend Malkina fucks a car. This is as shocking as Chandler's depiction of the nympho Carmen Sternwood would've been in THE BIG SLEEP. But what is the movie really focussed on? Not her sexual act - she is confident, unapologetic and uncaring about what you or I or Reiner might make of it. The movie focusses on the reaction of the men in the picture - their horror, fear, inability to process. In fact, I would argue that THE COUNSELOR is a shocking and reviled movie because it's so radical. No-one's a good guy. The bad guys are pussies. And the bad girl doesn't care what you think.
THE COUNSELOR has a running time of 117 minutes and is rated R in the USA.
THE COUNSELOR is on release almost everywhere except Taiwan where it will be released on December 6th and in Italy where it will be released on January 30th 2014.