Film Reviews

The Counselor Ridley Scott

Rating - 7/10

Ridley Scott is arguably one of the greatest directors working today – both profoundly versatile and capable of directing works that are both understated and deeply effecting. Take his best known work in science fiction, Alien and Blade Runner, both remarkable works in the genre, where science expands towards philosophy. Alien set a new standard for horror movies – although its tagline declared “In space no one can hear you scream”, the film certainly resulted in plenty of open mouths, and has deservedly found cult success since. Blade Runner is (in this writer’s opinion) one of the best movies ever. We can always go back to “all those moments” not lost in time, because the movie is eternal. We can watch again and again, finding new meaning in it every time. Scott can also direct films that tend more towards the loud, or the epic, like Gladiator or Kingdom of Heaven. He can march into war and cut us from the inside with Black Hawk Down or Body of Lies. And of course, he reinvented the American road movie: Thelma and Louise, an unforgettable journey into the country and two extraordinary characters.

Scott’s lead characters often start from a point of strength, or, failing that, they discover an unknown force within themselves as the movie develops. His movies are straight to the point, very truthful in their invoked emotions and feelings. They also have an inner violence, realistic yet subtle at the same time.

Although it arrived to a rather muted response, don't let yourselves be mistaken by what it has been said about The Counselor. It is an intelligent and entertaining movie experience, the type of movie that we have to judge by ourselves, and, if one does, reveals itself to be appealingly clever.

Crime is at the heart of the movie, from diamond and drug deals to snuff movies. When we deal closely with strong, seductive themes, it's hard not to let ourselves be drawn to them. It's difficult to define a border and prevent that reality becoming our own. "Greed is good" as Gekko would have put it. Proximity to so much money makes it easy to fall into greed.

It's hard to resist the opportunity when the prey is so easily pursuable. We know the risks (or we think we do) but we are willing to go all the way for the chance of being victorious. It seems so easy to grab the quarry and clench it. But sometimes, an easy and harmless victim can display talons and reveal the only truth: that hunting is unpredictable.

The Counselor, an advocate apparently specialized in drug cases, is in a very serious relationship with Laura (Penelope Cruz), the love of his life. He works for Reiner (Javier Bardem) someone whose source of income is not certain, but is definitely not legal. Reiner has a new drug shipment coming in and the counselor risks being part of this game. Elsewhere in the mix are Reiner’s very curious girlfriend Malkina (Cameron Diaz) whose intentions towards him are not clear, and Westray (Brad Pitt), another character with "unknown" profession.

Things get a little complicated when important people related to the "job" start dying and the drug shipment is mysteriously stolen, as they tend to do in the movies.

While the plot is strong, what really makes the film work are the names that Scott (and, no doubt, McCarthy) has drawn. Brad Pitt’s chameleonic nature as an actor is sorely underrated, he can bring something interesting to each role and Westray is quite different from J.D., the character he portrayed twenty years ago in Thelma & Louise. Without wanting to spoil anything, he’s responsible for one of the most outstanding scenes of the movie.

The same could be said for Cameron Diaz, who can be amazing when she steps outside of her usual area and takes on a bold character, and, fortunately, the tricky Malkina is a very intriguing one.

Of the two Spanish actors, Javier Bardem is the more versatile talent, and he approaches the eccentric Reiner in a kind of humourous manner. Penelope Cruz is generally more variable and usually much better in Spanish movies, perhaps because of her own mother tongue. Always elegant, Laura is almost an extension of Cruz herself in terms of style. The role suits her well, because it’s simple. Laura almost only exists to give substance to the counselor, so we can understand him better: his attitude, his private life. She’s almost like his religion, in his devotion to her.

And, as the titular counselor, Michael Fassbender is astonishing; surely deserving of awards. Always a highly competent actor, here he’s exceptionally expressive, conveying the most varied emotions just with his eyes. He offers himself to the character with overwhelming, even deeply moving, force.

The rhythm resembles the elegance of a leopard moving. Strong, but smooth. Deep, but light, it gives the film an appealing balance. The costume design captures the essence of each character and gradually reveals a little bit more about each. The set decoration is well-suited to the crudity of what is being revealed. Daniel Pemberton’s music was carefully chosen for each scene and communicates all the burgeoning tension of the film.

The hunt finished, if there are any survivors, they are either with their bellies full or left licking their wounds - and some wounds never heal.

The Counselor is an excellent exercise in hunting - very well assembled - drawing in the viewer from the first blow.