The Counselor

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This article is about the 2013 film. For the Goślicki book, see De optimo senatore.
The Counselor
The Counselor Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Ridley Scott
Produced by
Written by Cormac McCarthy
Starring
Music by Daniel Pemberton
Cinematography Dariusz Wolski
Edited by Pietro Scalia
Production
  companies
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date(s)
  • October 3, 2013 (2013-10-03) (Leicester Square)
  • October 25, 2013 (2013-10-25) (United States)
  • November 15, 2013 (2013-11-15) (United Kingdom)
Running time 118 minutes[1]
Country
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
Language English
Budget $25 million[2]
Box office $71,009,334[3]

The Counselor (spelled The Counsellor in some markets) is a 2013 British-American thriller film directed by Ridley Scott and written by Cormac McCarthy. It stars Michael Fassbender as the eponymous Counselor—who gets in over his head in a drug deal around the troubled Juarez, Mexico / Texas border area—as well as Penélope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem and Brad Pitt. The film deals with themes of greed, death, the primal instincts of humans and their consequences.

The Counselor was chosen as the closing film at the 2013 Morelia Film Festival and also played the Cork Film Festival. The London premiere was held on October 3, 2013 in Leicester Square. The New York City premiere was held on October 9, 2013. The film has received mixed reviews from critics and was theatrically released on October 25, 2013.

Plot[edit]

A man, known only as "The Counselor" (Michael Fassbender), and his girlfriend Laura (Penélope Cruz) are lying in bed and speaking to one another in an increasingly suggestive and erotic manner. Meanwhile, somewhere in Mexico, cocaine is packaged in barrels and concealed in a sewage truck, driven across the border and stored at a sewage treatment plant.

After the Counselor goes to Amsterdam to meet with a diamond dealer (Bruno Ganz) to purchase an expensive engagement ring for Laura, he proposes and she accepts. He has expensive tastes, driving a Bentley and wearing elegant suits. At a party thrown by Reiner (Javier Bardem) and girlfriend Malkina (Cameron Diaz), the Counselor discusses a nightclub he and Reiner intend to run, as well as the Counselor's interest in an upcoming drug deal, which would be his first.

The Counselor meets with Westray (Brad Pitt), a business associate of Reiner's. He hears of the deal's four-thousand percent return rate, but Westray warns The Counselor about becoming involved in such a deal, saying that Mexican cartels are merciless. Afterwards, as the Counselor fully resolves to participate in the drug deal, Reiner describes an execution device called "the bolita" which gradually strangles/decapitates the victim.

The Counselor visits a client, a prison inmate named Ruth (Rosie Perez) who is on trial for murder. Ruth's son is a biker and a valued cartel member known as "The Green Hornet" recently arrested for speeding. The Counselor agrees to bail him out of jail.

Malkina, a ruthless criminal herself, employs "The Wireman" (Sam Spruell) to steal the drugs. He does this by decapitating the biker with a wire stretched across the highway. After collecting the component that will allow the sewage truck to start, The Wireman drives to the sewage treatment plant, where he steals the truck containing the cocaine.

Learning of this incident, Westray meets with The Counselor to notify him that The Green Hornet is dead and that the cocaine has been stolen, bleakly intoning The Counselor's culpability. Westray says he is leaving town immediately and suggests The Counselor do the same. Westray explains that the cartel's ruthlessness extends to creating "snuff films" where murder victims are filmed on camera.The Counselor makes an urgent call to Laura, arranging to meet her in another state, where he will explain.

The cartel has learned that The Counselor bailed out The Green Hornet, which appears as suspect timing and fully blameworthy for the putative purposes of the cartel. In Texas, two cartel members pretending to be police officers pull over The Wireman and his accomplice. The accomplice shoots and kills one of the imposter "police officers" and wounds the other. The wounded cartel member manages to kill the accomplice and The Wireman, also gunning down a passing-by driver.

Reiner is accidentally killed by cartel members while attempting to capture him. Laura is then kidnapped. In a last-ditch effort, The Counselor contacts Jefe (Rubén Blades), a high-ranking cartel member, for suggestions on what to do next. Jefe advises The Counselor to live with the choices he has made.

The Counselor goes to Mexico, hoping to find and rescue Laura there. A package is slipped under the door of his hotel room and in it he finds a DVD with "Hola!" written on it, breaking down at the awareness that the disk likely contains an execution video of Laura sent by the cartel. Laura's body is seen being dumped into a landfill.

Malkina's failed effort to steal the drugs means that she is out of the money she wants. She tracks Westray to London, where she hires a woman (Natalie Dormer) to seduce him and steal his bank codes. She then hires accomplices to steal Westray's laptop, and in the process, he's violently killed by the "bolita" device that Reiner had previously described to The Counselor. The movie ends with Malkina meeting her banker (Goran Višnjić) at a restaurant, coolly explaining how she wants her accounts to be handled, then ordering lunch.

Literary themes[edit]

Writing for Serpentbox on October 28, 2013, Vincent Carrella identified the Spanish poet Antonio Machado as the source of the poetic verses used by the cartel kingpin, The Jefe, when speaking to The Counselor. In the second half of the film, The Jefe recites directly from the poem to The Counselor, “Caminante, no hay camino. Se hace camino al andar,” which translates in its original context as: wanderer, there is no road, the road is made by walking. This passage is taken from Machado's poem Campos de Castilla with Machado's reflections upon the prospects of his own life after learning of his wife being diagnosed with terminal tuberculosis from which she would die within a year. The Jefe uses the poem to inform The Counselor of his own impending demise. In the film, The Jefe concludes by telling The Counselor, “You are the world you have created. And when you cease to exist, that world you have created will also cease to exist.”[4]

Cast[edit]

  • Michael Fassbender as The Counselor, a lawyer who delves into the dark world of trafficking through his business partner Reiner. He was married previously and is now engaged to Laura. His name is never revealed. Reiner had propositioned The Counselor two years prior to get involved in the drug business, but he originally said no.
  • Cameron Diaz as Malkina. The name Malkina comes from Grimalkin meaning "an evil looking female cat." She is a pathological liar and a sociopath, an immigrant who is now living the high-life after escaping a sordid past as an exotic dancer. Although Malkina does come from a background of little means (she never knew her parents), she is smart and calculating. She hides her psychological scars through her appearance, wearing large jewelery and extravagant clothes to draw attention to herself. Malkina has a cheetah print tattoo and owns two pet cheetahs (Raoul and Silvia). She is the girlfriend of Reiner, and together they are a powerful couple in the underground drug world. She is always aware of what is going on around her, and in control at all times. Angelina Jolie was attached to the role before Diaz was cast.
  • Javier Bardem as Reiner, a charismatic entrepreneur by day and an underground drug kingpin by night. Reiner is the boyfriend of Malkina and they live an extravagant life together. His relationship with Malkina is volatile yet they are similar in nature. Reiner knows he is not the smartest of men and deep down fears this will eventually lead to his demise. He likes to live dangerously and carefree. Jeremy Renner and Bradley Cooper were considered for the role before Bardem was cast.[5]
  • Penélope Cruz as Laura, a naïve and generally positive, religious woman who values tradition. She is in a long-distance relationship with The Counselor and they soon become engaged. She senses that she may not know what The Counselor does while she is away yet does not let this get in the way of their relationship. Her failure to see the evil in those around her could cost her everything. Her real-life husband Javier Bardem also appears in the film, marking their first film together (although they do not share scenes together) since Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Natalie Portman was attached to the role before Cruz was cast.
  • Brad Pitt as Westray, a womanizing, charismatic middleman and a friend of Reiner's who meets with The Counselor to develop the deal. Westray understands the drug world better than Reiner but his vices for women and alcohol could prove to be a fatal flaw.
  • Rosie Perez as Ruth, a prison convict. Through court-appointment she is represented by The Counselor for murder charges.
  • Richard Cabral as The Young Man/The Green Hornet; Ruth's son and a dangerous, high-ranking member of the cartel with a target on his back.
  • Natalie Dormer as The Blonde, a young woman hired by Malkina to help her carry out her plans by seducing Westray. A sex scene that was not included in the film, with her wearing a pair of garterbelts, appears in a trailer video.
  • Édgar Ramírez as The Priest, whom Malkina goes to speak with.
  • Bruno Ganz as The Diamond Dealer, who sells Laura's engagement ring to The Counselor.
  • Rubén Blades as Jefe, a senior member of the cartel.
  • Goran Višnjić as Michael, a banker friend of Malkina's she meets with to discuss her future plans.
  • Toby Kebbell as Tony, an old client of The Counselor's.
  • Emma Rigby as Tony's Girlfriend.
  • John Leguizamo as Randy, a cartel member in Chicago from Colombia.
  • Dean Norris as The Buyer, a man who buys drugs from Randy in Chicago.
  • Donna Air as The Chauffeur.
  • Fernando Cayo (es) as Abogado Hernandez, a lawyer The Counselor goes to see for help.
  • Sam Spruell as Jaime "The Wireman", a criminal hired by Malkina.
  • Richard Brake as The Wireman's accomplice.
  • Alex Hafner as Highway Patrolman.

Production[edit]

Pre-production[edit]

On January 18, 2012, it was reported that novelist Cormac McCarthy had sold his first spec script, The Counselor, to Nick Wechsler, Steve Schwartz and Paula Mae Schwartz, who had previously produced the film adaptation of McCarthy's novel The Road.[6] On January 31, it was reported that Ridley Scott was currently considering several directorial projects, but that there was a strong possibility that The Counselor would be his next film and his follow-up to Prometheus.[7] On February 9, it was confirmed that Scott would direct.[8] Scott also became a producer. Cormac McCarthy, Mark Huffam, Michael Schaefer and Michael Costigan are executive producers.

Filming[edit]

Principal photography began on July 27, 2012 in London. The film was also shot in Spain and the United States.[9] On August 20, 2012, Scott halted production of the film due to his brother Tony's death. He canceled that week's shoot in order to travel to Los Angeles to be with his brother's family.[10] Scott returned to London to resume production on September 3.[11]

The film was dedicated to the memory of Tony Scott, who had taken his own life during production, and Matt Baker, the second assistant director on the film who had since died.[12] Only the Baker dedication is seen onscreen, however.

The first teaser trailer was released June 25, 2013.

Design[edit]

Costume designer Janty Yates collaborated with Giorgio Armani on the film as a part of a new partnership between Armani and 20th Century Fox that also extends into retail and digital initiatives.[13] Armani was enlisted to create the wardrobes for the characters portrayed by Michael Fassbender and Penélope Cruz.[14] In addition to Armani, designer Paula Thomas also contributed to the film's wardrobe by dressing Cameron Diaz's character, Malkina, with roughly 15 different outfits.[15] "[It wasn't until] I read the script that I realized why [Scott] called upon me," said Thomas. "[Cameron's] character has a lot of elements of a Thomas Wylde woman. [She's] bold, edgy, modern. She’s about wanting to be seen, as opposed to blending into the background."[16]

For Javier Bardem's character, Yates applied a widely colorful wardrobe that was mostly made up of pieces of Versace.[16] As for Bardem's hair, the idea was the actor's own and inspired by film producer Brian Grazer's hairdo.[17]

Music[edit]

The film score to The Counselor was composed by Daniel Pemberton.[18] Pemberton recorded the score with a full orchestra at Abbey Road Studios in addition to integrating home-recorded guitar noises and textures.[19] "Ridley responds really well to interesting and unusual sounds," explained Pemberton on the composer-director relationship. "So as a composer who likes making unusual sounds, that’s exciting. It was daunting but he was great to work with and up for experimenting. [...] He made the process a lot less scary than it should have been."[20] A soundtrack album was released digitally on October 22 and in physical forms on November 11, 2013 by Milan Records.[21]

Reception[edit]

Box office[edit]

Preliminary reports had The Counselor tracking for an $8.6–$13 million debut in North America.[22][23] The film opened to $3.2 million in 3,336 locations on Friday and opened at #4 in the box office with just a cumulative $7,842,930 over the weekend.[24]

Critical response[edit]

The film currently holds a 34% approval rating on review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes, based on 192 reviews, with an average score of 4.9 out of 10. The consensus states: "The Counselor raises expectations with its talented cast and creative crew—then subverts them with a wordy and clumsy suspense thriller that's mercilessly short on suspense or thrills."[25] On Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 based on reviews from critics, the film has a score of 48 based on 42 reviews, considered to be "mixed or average reviews".[26] It received a very negative grade of a "D" from market-research firm CinemaScore.[27]

Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter gave the film a negative review, calling it "not a very likable or gratifying film," adding that "one is left with a very bleak ending and an only slightly less depressing sense of the waste of a lot of fine talent both behind and in front of the camera."[28] Noted critic Mark Kermode listed it as number two on his Ten Worst Films of 2013. [29] The Los Angeles Times' Kenneth Turan stated, "As cold, precise and soulless as the diamonds that figure briefly in its plot, The Counselor is an extremely unpleasant piece of business."[30] Peter Debruge of Variety criticized Cormac McCarthy's script, saying that his "first original script is nearly all dialogue, but it's a lousy story, ineptly constructed and rendered far too difficult to follow."[31]

Conversely, Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film four stars out of four, saying "director Ridley Scott and screenwriter Cormac McCarthy have fashioned a sexy, sometimes shockingly violent, literate and richly textured tale of the Shakespearean consequences of one man’s irrevocable act of avarice" and called it "a bloody great time."[32] In addition, Manohla Dargis of The New York Times gave the film a rave review, stating that "Mr. McCarthy appears to have never read a screenwriting manual in his life [...] That's a compliment."[33] Danny Leigh of the BBC film review programme Film 2013 praised the film, saying that "the real star is the script. What this film really is a Cormac McCarthy audiobook with visuals by Ridley Scott. It's black as night, engrossing and masterful." He also acclaimed the performances, particularly Diaz's, and said, with regard to the negative reviews, "Movie history is littered with films that we all sneered at and we all laughed at and we all thought were terrible and the critics hated them and no-one went to see them, and then 40 years later they fetch up on programmes like this with everyone saying 'what a masterpiece!'"[34]

Scott Foundas, chief film critic for Variety, wrote a defense of the film titled "Why The Counselor Is One of Ridley Scott's Best Films" in which he compared it to John Boorman's Point Blank and the screenplay to the work of David Mamet, Harold Pinter, and Quentin Tarantino. Foundas writes, "[the film] is bold and thrilling in ways that mainstream American movies rarely are, and its rejection suggests what little appetite there is for real daring at the multiplex nowadays."[35]

Awards[edit]

Year Group Award Result Notes
2014 London Critics Circle Film Awards British Actor of the Year Nominated Michael Fassbender
2014 MTV Movie Awards Best WTF Moment Nominated Cameron Diaz

References[edit]

  1. ^ "THE COUNSELOR (18)". 20th Century Fox. British Board of Film Classification. October 15, 2013. Retrieved October 15, 2013. 
  2. ^ Kaufman, Amy (October 24, 2013). "Knoxville's 'Bad Grandpa' to end box-office reign of 'Gravity'". Los Angeles Times (Tribune Company). Retrieved October 24, 2013. 
  3. ^ "The Counselor (2013)". Box Office Mojo. IMDB. Retrieved November 20, 2013. 
  4. ^ Vincent Carrella, "The Crossing, The Counselor," Serpentbox, October 28, 2013.
  5. ^ Savvides, Nick (February 28, 2012). "Brad Pitt, Jeremy Renner & Javier Bardem Circling Ridley Scott's The Counselor". WhatCulture.com. Obsessed with Film LTD. Retrieved August 2, 2012. 
  6. ^ "Cormac McCarthy Sells First Spec Script". TheWrap.com. The Wrap News Inc. January 18, 2012. Retrieved August 2, 2012. 
  7. ^ Fleming, Mike (January 31, 2012). "Ridley Scott In Talks For Cormac McCarthy's 'The Counselor'". Deadline.com. PMC. Retrieved August 2, 2012. 
  8. ^ Shirey, Paul (February 9, 2012). "Ridley Scott confirmed to direct Cormac McCarthy penned 'The Counselor'". JoBlo.com. Joblo Media Inc. Retrieved August 2, 2012. 
  9. ^ "First Looks at Michael Fassbender and Brad Pitt Filming 'The Counselor'". INeedMyFix.com. Glam Entertainment. August 1, 2012. Retrieved August 2, 2012. 
  10. ^ "Ridley Scott halts production on 'The Counselor' following brother's death". HitFix.com. August 20, 2012. Retrieved August 21, 2012. 
  11. ^ Tartaglione, Nancy (September 2, 2012). "Ridley Scott Resumes ‘The Counselor’ Monday". Deadline.com. Retrieved September 3, 2012. 
  12. ^ Calia, Michael (June 25, 2013). "Ridley Scott, Cormac McCarthy Team Up for ‘The Counselor’ Trailer". Speakeasy (The Wall Street Journal). Retrieved June 26, 2013. 
  13. ^ Martens, Cynthia (October 2, 2013). "Giorgio Armani Signs On for 'The Counselor'". Women's Wear Daily. Fairchild Fashion Media. Retrieved October 26, 2013. 
  14. ^ Suhrawardi, Rebecca (October 22, 2013). "The dramatic fashion of ‘The Counselor’". New York Post (News Corp). Retrieved October 26, 2013. 
  15. ^ Caroline, Ryder (October 17, 2013). "Cheetah Prints and Bullet Holes: Cameron Diaz' Dark Style in 'The Counselor'". The Hollywood Reporter (Prometheus Global Media). Retrieved October 26, 2013. 
  16. ^ a b Scharf, Lindzi (October 25, 2013). "Dressing Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem, and more stars of 'The Counselor'". Entertainment Weekly. CNN. Retrieved October 26, 2013. 
  17. ^ McClintock, Pamela (June 26, 2013). "CineEurope: Javier Bardem's Hairdo in 'The Counselor' Inspired by Brian Grazer's". The Hollywood Reporter (Prometheus Global Media). Retrieved October 26, 2013. 
  18. ^ "Daniel Pemberton Scoring Ridley Scott’s ‘The Counselor’". Film Music Reporter. April 26, 2013. Retrieved October 12, 2013. 
  19. ^ "Daniel Pemberton's 'The Counselor' Score to be Released". Soundtrack.net. Costa Communications. October 7, 2013. Retrieved October 12, 2013. 
  20. ^ "Interview: Daniel Pemberton". M. Bauer Publishing. September 23, 2013. Retrieved October 12, 2013. 
  21. ^ "‘The Counselor’ Soundtrack Details". Film Music Reporter. October 10, 2013. Retrieved October 12, 2013. 
  22. ^ Subers, Ray (October 24, 2013). "Forecast: Audiences to Take a Trip with 'Grandpa' This Weekend". Box Office Mojo. IMDB. Retrieved October 26, 2013. 
  23. ^ Pomerantz, Dorothy (October 24, 2013). "Why Hollywood Needs 'Jackass'". Forbes. Retrieved October 26, 2013. 
  24. ^ 'Jackass: Bad Grandpa' Box Office Aims For Mid-$20 Millions
  25. ^ "The Counselor (2013)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved March 6, 2014. 
  26. ^ "The Counselor Reviews - Metacritic". Metacritic. Retrieved October 17, 2013. 
  27. ^ Cinemascore
  28. ^ McCarthy, Todd (October 23, 2013). "The Counselor: Film Review". The Hollywood Reporter (Prometheus Global Media). Retrieved October 24, 2013. 
  29. ^ "Kermode Uncut: My Ten Worst Movies Of 2013". YouTube. December 26, 2013. Retrieved June 22, 2014. 
  30. ^ Turan, Kenneth (October 24, 2013). "Review: 'The Counselor' a bleak waste of A-list talent". Los Angeles Times. 
  31. ^ Debruge, Peter (October 24, 2013). "Film Review: ‘The Counselor’". Variety (Penske Business Media). Retrieved November 3, 2013. 
  32. ^ Roeper, Richard (October 23, 2013). "‘The Counselor’: Outrageous sex, brutal violence and gorgeous words". Chicago Sun-Times (Sun-Times Media Group). Retrieved October 24, 2013. 
  33. ^ Dargis, Manohla (October 24, 2013). "Wildlife Is Tame; Not the Humans". The New York Times (The New York Times Company). Retrieved October 27, 2013. 
  34. ^ "Episode 10" (in English). 2013. Series 10/15. November 13, 2013. 29 minutes in. BBC. BBC One.
  35. ^ Foundas, Scott (October 28, 2013). "Why ‘The Counselor’ Is One of Ridley Scott’s Best Films". Variety (Penske Business Media). Retrieved November 3, 2013. 

External links[edit]