The Counsellor is the long overdue slap in the face of the crime genre as it slow burns with intensity - The Counsellor film review

Posted by Craig Grobler on Google+ On Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Counsellor ReviewA couple of weeks ago I read an online post entitled “Ridley Scott’s Trojan Horse Career” the gist of it is, is that writers Sean Fennessey and Chris Ryan contend that Ridley Scott's films are polished delivery systems for ideas. Now whilst the article is well written, informed and conceived, until I watched Ridley Scott's latest film The Counsellor the relevance of it  meaning expanded exponentially.

Ridley Scott's The Counsellor blew me away! Not in wow this is an awesome film kind of way, more along the lines of I can't stop thinking about the film days after experiencing its intensity kind of way.

“The Bible is full of cautionary tales, all of literature, for that matter. Telling us to be careful. Careful of what? Taking the wrong turn, the wrong path. How many wrong paths are there? Their number is legion. How many right paths? Just one.”
White - The Sunset Limited, Cormac McCarthy

The Counsellor Film Poster
The Counsellor Film Poster - November 15 ZOOM

The Counsellor

A lawyer finds himself in over his head when he gets involved in drug trafficking.

Ridley Scott

Cormac McCarthy

Michael Fassbender, Penélope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Brad Pitt, Javier Bardem

UK Release Date:
15 November, 2013

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“Well, you pay the price for your decisions. Sometimes good sometimes bad. I think that's interesting, a very interesting dynamic” - Sir Ridley Scott

The Counsellor Michael Fassbender
The Counsellor Javier Bardem Reiner
The Counsellor Cameron Diaz Malkina
The Counsellor Penélope Cruz Laura

The Counsellor Brad Pitt Westray
Based on a spec screenplay from author Cormac McCarthy (who also Executive Produces) which exhibits all the hallmarks that make his hard boiled writing style a favourite with film-makers, critics and audiences alike - in this regard The Counsellor could be taking place down the road from his previous No Country for Old Men.


As with Scott's previous films The Counsellor seems to have divided audiences, and this time I'm in the pro camp. I can however see why some may not enjoy it, it is decidedly low-fi and low concept when compared to many of his other efforts. On one level The Counsellor is exactly what it says on the tin - “A lawyer finds himself in over his head when he gets involved in drug trafficking.” Which is also the harrowing beauty and magic of it. I have to say that Ridley Scott is at his best when wandering into darker territory and it doesn't get darker than The Counsellor with its villain stripped of humanism and the dark hole left replaced with the baser animal instincts, a theme running throughout the film.

The Counsellor Michael Fassbender & Javier Bardem
The Counsellor Michael Fassbender & Javier Bardem ZOOM
Film audiences have been fascinated with crime and the heart of gold cool criminals since the early day of cinema, the path can be traced from outlaw bandits in the West, possibly peaking in the 70s with The Godfather, which at the time revealed to the public a previously hidden cabal but since then has become a kind of blueprint for a perverted version of the American dream for the criminally inclined, all the way through to our modern day Ripley carbon copies ahem *Lecter*. These days it has become de rigueur for our heroes to be a little bent after all who better to catch a rat than another rat?


Hidden within the drama of The Counsellor's fairly simplistic crime tale is a long overdue cold slap and kick in the balls to the crime genre as we have come to know it. With The Counsellor Scott elevates the discussion and explores morality,crime, punishment, greed and the nature of evil. Scott revisits the genre and eschews all the conventions that we have become attuned to within the crime genre. The Counsellor is not about last minute John Grisham solutions, crack shots, clever twists or slow motion bullets leaving a gun barrel, or even the finger pulling the trigger (or squeezing the trigger if I was to be technically accurate) - The Counsellor is about the shadow behind the man pulling the trigger and how society's complicity is part of this murky world .

Cormac McCarthy and Ridley Scott ask us to question our definition of good and evil - while reminding us of the harsh consequences of bad decisions. Similar themes were explored, arguably less successfully, in last year's Brad Pitt starrer Killing Them Softly from Director Andrew Dominik. Whilst Killing Them Softly was overtly slick to the point of distraction Scott's leaves the slickness to his slimy characters and the polished camerawork.

The Counsellor Michael Fassbender Penélope Cruz
The Counsellor Michael Fassbender & Penélope Cruz ZOOM
Although much of the story of The Counsellor takes place off screen, like the long fall from grace of the nameless lead character  - a Counsellor, someone engaged in the Practice of Law, played by Michael Fassbender. Our story picks up with The Counsellor becoming involved in a drug deal with a long time associate and cool guy playboy - Reiner played with aplomb by Javier Bardem and Brad Pitt's sharp wise guy Westray

Video:The Establishing Shot:THE COUNSELLOR - IF YOU'RE NOT IN ... CLIP - 15 NOVEMBER 2013

Well actually the story starts with a lone motorcyclist riding the long stretches of New Mexico road, the sound of which wakes up out titular character. The relevance and symbolism of this may become clearer later on, like much of The Counsellor cause and effect are in full play throughout the film.

The dark tale of The Counsellor unfolds on two levels as it dually follows the behind closed doors “executive” discussions of the handful of lead characters around The Counsellor (Michael Fassbender), his other half Laura (Penélope Cruz), his long-time associate and friend Reiner (Javier Bardem),  his other half Malkina (Cameron Diaz) and their business partner Westray (Brad Pitt) focussing on the visible and sometimes hidden relationships - think of it as The Social Network of crime, interwoven with events from the second thread which follows the more hands on aspects of their dealings.

The Counsellor Cameron Diaz & Penelope Cruz
The Counsellor Cameron Diaz & Penelope Cruz ZOOM
Early on in the film when The Counsellor is discussing a deal that could very well be the root of his evil or at least contribute to it with a diamond dealer played by none other than Mr. Bruno Ganz the clues to this being a cautionary tale are alluded to. Incidentally this scene draws interesting parallels between the motivation of the lead characters. 

I lay this out quite explicitly, as immediately as the lights went up in the screening I attended I heard a voice behind me said “well that was hard to follow” and later I found myself explaining some of the finer points of the film to others who had just seen it.


The cast is packed with powerhouse talent like the aforementioned Michael FassbenderPenélope CruzCameron Diaz (as you have never seen her before), Javier BardemBruno GanzBrad PittRosie PerezRubén Blades as well as many other faces you'll immediately recognise - but the real stars of The Counsellor are the engaging way the story rolls out - with each scene giving you just enough information to link it to other events, like a puzzle it all slowly starts to fall in place. If you miss something repeated viewings may add further depth to the story.

The Counsellor Brad Pitt & Michael Fassbender
The Counsellor Brad Pitt & Michael Fassbender ZOOM
Secondarily the dialogue is absolutely incredible sometimes it sounds like it is ad libbed and conversational like something written by Quentin Tarantino and other times it is delivered with ideological intent and the clarity of a gun cocking like something straight out of a Greek Tragedy.


Each line is delivered like a guillotine dropping yet as with the titular character, The Counsellor we don't interpret it as it intended - but rather like a modern smart man who works within the legal system and rubs shoulders with people on the other side of the law - we only hear it as hollow and see the angle or space to manoeuvre within the language used - that we have become accustomed to through media and the crime genre of late.

Despite my love for The Counsellor I did feel that the depth of characterisation was uneven, sometimes its a little too heavy handed, as an example there was at least one scene which, although pulled religion into the frame, I felt was redundant and the time could have been used better to develop other characters like Penélope Cruz's Laura who I think could have benefited from a bit more fleshing out.

The Counsellor Ridley Scott directs Michael Fassbender & Javier Bardem on set
The Counsellor Ridley Scott directs Michael Fassbender & Javier Bardem on set ZOOM
The Counsellor is a top tier production, c'mon it's Ridley Scott what did you expect? With stand outs being Dariusz Wolski's sumptuous cinematography which brings gloss & life to the anhydrous Texas/Mexico rural settings and morally bankrupt characters.

Whilst Composer Daniel Pemberton continues to go from strength to strength with each of his outings on his way to being a major talent, his score for The Counsellor is subtle but brings an ambient western feel to proceedings and reminiscent of Carter Burwell's work for the Cohen Brothers. The score is notably haunting like a dog howling in a desert or someone hitting a barbed wire fence in the dark of the night.

Such was the impression left on me by The Counsellor for days after seeing it, whatever I was watching whether TV or film I was forced to listen to each word of dialogue coming from characters and had to wonder if they actually knew what they were saying.

The Counsellor Images Slideshow


Craig Grobler
Craig is a retired superhero, an obsessive hobbyist, comics fan, gadget lover & flâneur who knows an unhealthy amount about Ian Fleming's James Bond.

When not watching or making films he takes pictures, eats, drinks, dives, mentally storyboards the greatest film ever made & sometimes utilises owl-themed gadgets to fight crime. 

A list of his 133 favourite films can be found hereIf you would still like to contact Craig please use any of the buttons below: 

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