Movie Review

Film Review: THE COUNSELOR (2013): Scott’s Subtle, Brutal Masterpiece

Michael Fassbender The Counselor

The Counselor (2013) Film Review, a movie directed by Ridley Scott, starring Michael Fassbender, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt, Rosie Perez, Natalie Dormer, Edgar Ramirez, Bruno Ganz, Ruben Blades, Goran Visnjic, Toby Kebbell, Emma Rigby, John Leguizamo, Dean Norris, Sam Spruell, and Carlos Julio Molino.

There have been many masterful thrillers in 2013 but none of them or any other thriller of any year for that matter resembles The Counselor. It is a brutal, artistically rich, boundlessly smart, superbly entertaining exploration of risk and guilt that combines the unique style of writer Cormack McCarthy, the storytelling ingenuity of Ridley Scott and the exceptional performances of each and every member of the best stellar cast of 2013. The film is ground-breaking: the majority of it is dialogue but that dialogue is so cleverly written and the acting is so exceptional that the levels of tension, fear and claustrophobic pain, especially in the second part when the story gets dark, are immense. Only Ridley Scott can direct and only Cormack McCarthy can write a thriller that delivers its thrills more through conversation and less through scenes of brutal violence and shocking realization. This is a mesmerizing in its first part and dark, merciless, exceptionally intense and hard-hitting tale in its second about guilt and mistakes. The Counselor might be misunderstood initially because of its level of innovation but it is bound to be remembered as a classic, just like the majority of Scott’s past brilliant work.

The performances were wonderfully concentrated around building up the tension and pain. Michael Fassbender’s acting in the second part of the film, when his character is as close to hell as possible was probably the best in his entire career. His character was guilty and deserved his fate but the realization of the horror, the way every wave of terror is expressed in Fassbender’s eyes is so believable and so truthful all the way to his very last scene, which arguably involved the most powerful, if not the finest acting of the year and I mean that after having seen Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips and Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave. After their collaboration in the latter, Michael Fassbender once again proved to be utterly effective on-screen with Brad Pitt who played the clever, slick middle man with a menacing assurance, which was vital for the film’s formidable tension. Javier Bardem was very good as the Counselor’s best buddy-friendly but gradually more and more discouraging. Cameron Diaz was exceptional as her cold, unsympathetic, cool, shocking character, which I came to admire more and more as the film got progressively darker, realizing that her character and her equally icy performance fully resembles the film’s brutality-unflinching, assured, unstoppable. Penelope Cruz was quite efficient as the film’s most likable character with her emotional nature that made me feel profound sympathy and pity for her in her scenes of happiness and pain respectively. Ridley Scott used the spectacular acting to a great effect. He composed his scenes through editing and close ups with such mathematical precision and such a good feeling of timing (when to cut to a close up, when to cut back to a wider shot) that every single otherwise simple shot, delivers a new dose of thrills.

The writing was challenging but nonetheless brilliant. Cormack McCarthy won’t attract a lot of audience through his style. It was clever and filled with intricacies which would be understood and emotionally effect only those who actually listened to the dialogue and did not expect loud screaming and outbreaks of rage. The dialogue was written with poetic beauty. Its effectiveness worked quite subtly. Almost every scene of the second part of the film, when the story enters a darker territory, made the opposition between the Counselor’s ruined, doomed life and normal people’s ordinary life. Just one of the countless little examples involved a piece of dialogue in which the Counselor (Fassbender) asked an unfamiliar woman for her phone in order to try and warn his wife (Cruz) for the coming danger. The short scene ended with the woman saying ‘I hope you didn’t call China.’ This is just an every-day clichéd joke but at this case it hit me very hard because it felt so distant to the Counselor at that moment when his whole life and world is doomed. From the moment when the film adopted the idea of a horrifying end approaching every little thing, word and moment that reminds the Counselor of a normal life, free of mortal danger hurt him and hurt us, the audience. The second part of the film was not simply filled with those moments. McCarthy took us on a journey of a man whose sense of guilt, fear and hopelessness in the face of the destruction were explored in meticulous detail, with heart-wrenching cruelty. I saw a first part in which we lived in this beautiful, happy world which were constantly warned and afraid of losing and then in the second part we lived in this world of doom in which we feared the inevitable. We know the end was coming and yet until the worst happens we didn’t believe it will. That is why the brutal The Counselor is so great-Scott and McCarthy spent so much time on the journey of fear and grief and hopelessness that when it all comes to its destructible and abrupt stop we were formidably shaken by it. We have been horrified and afraid and in search of this inexistent but possible comfort that we would escape. But the end did arrive and it did so terrifically. The film was a genius metaphor for a man who takes a risk and fails. No other film that I have ever seen has been so thoroughly connected with the idea of risking and losing and the subsequent guilt and pain. The most powerful emotional punch of The Counselor and simultaneously its wisest lesson is that when a terrible mistake is made the greatest pain doesn’t come from the fear of your own decimation. When the answer to that horrifying question arrived, the shock was tremendous.

Ridley Scott’s command upon the film revealed him as a true master of his craft. He managed to provide simple images and objects with a vast amount of emotional potency. He let us plainly observe the construction of a killing device midway through the film. When a wire is stretched at the height of a man’s neck as it was carefully measured by one of the assassins in the story, we knew that this shiny, thin piece of metal meant death. One more lifeless object further on in the film stood for death in a very powerful manner but I will not spoil the film. I considered this to be true mastery. Scott had at his disposal scenes that offer to the audience nothing but lifeless objects, actors and dialogue and yet he managed to put together a gut-wrenchingly, shocking tale of personal destruction. Scott concentrated upon his actors with masterful precision, allowing their best moments to stand out and thus provide the film with additional emotional power, regardless if we are talking about a nod, an exclamation or a look in their eyes.

The Counselor is a spectacular, courageous achievement-it is powerfully acted, exceptionally directed and quite ingeniously written, that is also entertaining, horrifying and incredibly smart. The majority of critics are trying to bury the film, which I do not understand or care for. The film’s qualities and achievements are obvious and undeniable but most of all-unique, original and artistically masterful.

Rating: 9/10

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About the author

Deyan Angelov

  • This is the first positive, let alone glowing review I’ve seen of the movie. I always figured it was better than the reaction it was getting. And so I hope to see it for myself (paired ideally with Killing Them Softly). I will probably have a similar reaction.

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