So I watched Ridley Scott’s House of Gucci on Amazon Prime and figured I’d review it succinctly as “its The Counsellor without the interesting bits” which seemed to sum it up. As you possibly guessed, this got me to thinking about that earlier Ridley Scott film again and my Blu-ray copy is easily at hand so… I watched it again, if only to see how it measured up against Ridley’s most recent film/misfire (delete as appropriate).
Then it dawned on me that I last saw The Counsellor (in its extended version, having never seen the theatrical edit) back in 2014. That’s eight years. Eight years! Two things immediately sprung to mind, holding the Blu-ray case- its a Twentieth Century Fox film, something which doesn’t exist anymore since Disney took over the studio (dropping the ‘Fox’), and secondly that there’s no way Ridley would get to release an extended version of his film the way he often used to back then, especially not via Fox/Disney. Neither, now that I think about it, would it have such an elaborate Special Feature as its ‘alternate viewing experience’ that lasts three and a half hours with commentary and video sections. Well, there’s progress for you, but its another thing to miss; such elaborate special features in just the same way as I miss the fancy packaging that DVDs used to get, back in the day.
Its actually a little sad, the part near the end of the commentary track when Ridley appreciates the home video formats (he refers to ‘DVD’) which allow him to release extended, alternate versions of his films and special features that open up the film-making process (grumbling a little that it makes his face recognisable to the public, losing him some anonymity when on the streets etc). Well, streaming is gradually eroding those old benefits of home media: how things change in just eight years though.
So anyway, back to The Counsellor. Its way darker than I remembered. Goodness its such a dark and disturbing film it should carry some kind of warning, and weirdly it benefits from something like Sicario, released a few years after, as an unintentional companion piece. An exercise in over-indulgence both within its ponderous Cormac MaCarthy screenplay, and its onscreen cast of familiar star faces (Michael Fassbender, Javier Bardem, Cameron Diaz, Brad Pitt, Penelope Cruz), in a way its a case of media becoming its own message, because the film is also about over-indulgence, its frankly despicable characters over-sexed, and ultra-rich, their greed for expensive pleasures and comforts proving their undoing. Its a surprisingly philosophical film too, its lengthy monologues not the hip, witty dialogue of Tarantino films but rather dark, rueful treaties on life, greed, reality, trust. There’s only one likeable character and she gets to ‘star’ as the subject of a snuff movie so yeah, its desperately noir film. Consequently, many viewers have found the film utterly repugnant and its not well-regarded (its possibly actually largely forgotten these days, far as I can tell) but I rather liked it back in 2014 and I still do, although I feel a little dirty even admitting that I think its one of Ridley Scott’s better movies, certainly in his top ten.
Maybe watching so many film noir over the past few years actually makes this films darkness more palatable. The titular character (never referred to by name, only by his title of Counsellor) is caught in a web of nightmarish coincidence triggered by his own greed (how very noir) and so the film struggles to maintain any kind of empathy for him at all- it operates contrary to how film narratives usually do, with protagonists which viewers root for: instead its a troubling viewing experience, a distant observation of someone falling into Hell. So an instant turn-off for many. But I like the monologues, appreciate the amazing cast, and find rewarding the films disturbing presentation that mortality and violence can be instant and dispassionate, ignorant of whether its deserved, and Fate has no morality or justice. Its a cruel, horrible world and we’re fooling ourselves if we think it isn’t: but how else can we give our lives meaning other than through some moral code even though others refuse to live by that code? The Counsellor is the very definition of a nihilistic film, and far from easy viewing, but something about it just gets under my skin.