Ridley Scott’s The Counsellor is as divisive a film as his previous film, Prometheus. Is he deliberately antagonising his audience, subverting our expectations with his films now? Prometheus was supposed to be an Alien prequel, and was, in a way, albeit spinning off in some other direction and ultimately not really being the Alien movie fans seemed to want. The Counsellor, made from a screenplay by literary darling Cormac McCarthy (The Road, No Country For Old Men) and featuring a tremendous cast including Michael Fassbender, Penélope Cruz, Javier Bardem and Brad Pitt in a tale of greed and drug trafficking, seemed to be prime thriller material- and yet it is hardly a thriller at all, more interested in long monologues regarding observations on greed, where it leads and responsibility for our crimes, than action sequences.
For myself, I quite enjoyed the film, choosing to watch the Extended Cut rather than the theatrical that apparently so infuriated cinemagoers. How much more superior the Extended Cut is over the theatrical, or even what those differences are, I cannot say. I can however state that The Counsellor is a fascinating art-house movie in the guise of a traditional thriller. There is action, and very brutal action at that, including one of the most gruesome and memorable murder sequences I have ever seen, but all of that is simply incidental to the lengthy monologues and sometimes poetic observations verbalised by the characters. What doesn’t help is that, other than Penélope Cruz ‘s character, every character in this film seems thoroughly unredeemable and unsympathetic. It’s faithful to the films theme but does rather hinder audience empathy with the film. We just don’t care for anyone other than Cruz (who is wonderful by the way, full of sensuality and warmth here) and things don’t end well for her either, so whilst avoiding spoilers, don’t expect a happy conclusion here. Its a frankly nihilistic film from beginning to end. Does that sound hard to stomach over two and a half hours? It evidently proved to be for cinemagoers watching the two hour version, and this Extended Cut is surely just more of it.
The title character (played to perfection by the dependable as ever Michael Fassbender) is an utterly unlikeable hero, known only as The Counsellor in reference to his dubious trade representing criminals. He seems to have it made from the start; handsome, wealthy and in an exciting relationship with a stunningly beautiful and sensual woman (Cruz) – admit it, you hate him already, I did, especially when it is abundantly clear that even when he apparently has it all, it isn’t enough. He wants more, hence his slide into the drug trafficking of his clients. When things go awry and he and his associates are unwittingly put in the frame, retribution follows but we hardly care. We have little if any empathy for any of them. Its honest and faithful to the point of the film- we simply aren’t meant to like any of them- but it does rather undermine the movie in the traditional sense of rooting for people. In that respect, I often felt like I was watching a coldly analytical Stanley Kubrick film. It really doesn’t feel like a Hollywood movie.
Indeed its so refreshingly different to what I expected, and wonderfully, unrelentingly dark, that I rather fell in love with it anyway. It may prove to be one of those films that gets re-evaluated in the future, and becomes widely considered a success after all (another Blade Runner, perhaps?). Kudos to 20th Century Fox for letting Scott make the film he clearly wanted to, as it must have been tempting to rip it apart and make it more, well, traditionally positive – although maybe the theatrical cut was Scott’s way of compromising his intentions somewhat. I won’t know unless I try watching that version but I hardly see the point.
One of Scott’s better movies. Or maybe I’m wide of the mark and it really is as terrible as people make out? If you’ve seen it, do let me know what you think.