Man, this film took more criticism than probably anything else I saw from 2013 (I turned Runner Runner off after 10 minutes) and it really doesn’t deserve it. Sure, it’s got some wild costuming and hilarious car-sex scenes, but it all fits the theme and world of the film.
I actually found it to be a pretty smart thriller. Whether or not you like the long-winded stories strewn throughout probably depends more on your literary than your cinematic tastes.
One of the reasons that The Counselor is good is because Cormac McCarthy’s script really assumes you’ll follow along and not zone out. Sure, there are plenty of dialogue-heavy scenes, but there are also several short quiet scenes, all of which connect directly to the main plot. It’s tightly plotted in that everything contributes and adds to the suspense.
The Counselor is also good because of the acting. Michael Fassbender is really great in the lead, Javier Bardem is cocaine-induced magnetic, and, though costumed like she just killed a slew of animals and is currently wearing them, Cameron Diaz is believable as the femme fatale.
Here’s a look at some of that costuming. Fassbender’s counselor’s wardrobe seems to change in color scheme depending on his situation. Dark colors (and largely back-lit) in his illicit dealings:
And lighter clothes for the lighter dealings:
I like the production design, too. Look at those purples, blues, and greens in the first group of stills above, and then the general whites and beiges in the second group.
The image above, which I’ll repeat below, also features a scene-stealing moment from Ton Kebbell as someone from the counselor’s past. He’s fantastic, swaggering, and full of danger – an actor I’ll keep my eye out for:
I noticed that Ridley Scott doesn’t really shoot in flat 2-shots at all, which, in my opinion, has become pretty popular lately. He instead shoots in a more traditional approach, like this one, where the counselor approaches Brad Pitt’s Westray:
Or like this one, where Bardem’s spiky-haired Reiner departs from the counselor:
It’s a lot of blocking in depth, I suppose. Even when Scott does shoot flat-
-it’s not static-flat, or flat as the main design, but just a momentary section amidst a lot of movement otherwise.
As a side note here, there seem to be a few references to Steve McQueen in here. One is on the nose: a McQueen poster from The Sand Pebbles framed prominently; others are maybe a stretch, like that Great Escape-styled motorcycle in the shots above (I must admit, I have no knowledge of actual motorcycles, so maybe I’m way off base in this one), and the counselor’s early stoic coolness in the face of what seems to be probably danger.
Then there’s the much talked about scene where Diaz’s Malkina has sex with a car. Its hype sort of reminds me of Nicole Kidman peeing on Zac Efron in The Paperboy, another scene that was sold as exploitive and ludicrous and actually has a function within the film. The sequence in The Counselor is actually really hilarious – and intentionally so – mostly because of Reiner’s incredulity as he tells it and the counselor’s dumbfounded reactions, and the flashbacks to the scene, noirish and headlight-lit-
-are as uneasily funny as it sounds.
I’ve liked some of Ridley Scott’s recent films, but this is the first one that I’ve really liked in some time, and one of his best films as a whole. It’s risky because of how much the plot clicks together quickly, but Scott is a master at the ensemble – giving everyone their appropriate screen time and beats to make them all feel very much alive.
This is a film that also very much feels like a torch pass – if that pass hasn’t already happened – from Fassbender to Pitt. Not that they’re the same actor or type – Fassbender’s rise wasn’t really around his sexuality – but one gets the sense that Pitt might have played this role years ago and that he’s happy now playing the wise(ish) sage (see 12 Years a Slave as well) opposite a more naive lead.