Well, the header is self-explanatory.
So Milords, scroll down to read Gyandeep Pattnayak‘s defense of Ridley Scott’s The Counselor, and see if it convinces you otherwise.
‘The Counselor’, for over than a week, has been like that itch which I’ve tried really hard to ignore but can’t anymore.
The reactions to the film are as fascinating as the film itself. But I’m getting way ahead of myself here. Let’s wind back our clocks a little. Remember how the Internet exploded with euphoria when it was announced that Cormac McCarthy had sold his first ever screenplay, and that Ridley Scott was attached to direct it? I mean, who wouldn’t be excited, right? McCarthy – the genius that he is – writes prose that oozes blood and as a writer, he’s pretty much cemented his position as one of the literary greats. Scott, on the other hand, is a filmmaker whose greater works have (often) initially been rejected as being overtly indulgent and devoid of any real emotion. ‘The Counselor’, which boasts of such impeccable pedigree (both in front of and behind the camera) was bound to raise expectations to an all-time high. So, what went wrong?
The primary issue that the audiences (and critics) had with the film was that it was too talky. Agreed that the dialogs are a bit impenetrable at first but meandering and unnecessary they aren’t. Also, this is a film that warrants repeated viewings and it will only get better the next time you see it. To validate this, let’s consider the scene in which the Counselor (Michael Fassbender, as the titular character) goes to Amsterdam to purchase a diamond from a diamond dealer. They engage in a conversation related to the quality of flawed and perfect diamonds. Slowly, the conversation veers towards country, culture, God, philosophy. You are hooked, you ARE the Counselor in this moment. You don’t understand all of what the diamond merchant says but you are intrigued. The words flow like music. And then McCarthy subverts this very scene, with the merchant saying, “Enough, i see your look. No more philosophy.” You expect the conversation to stop. But what the old man says next will show how incisively sharp McCarthy’s writing really is. And this is just the beginning.
Another complaint: the plot is foggy, not enough of story to chew on. Wrong. There is a story about consequences, about what greed begets. There is always some talk about a deal, something which isn’t made clear. But we do see drugs being transported and re-transported in a truck. So we know it’s got something to do with them. And the Counselor is just asked by his friend, Javier Bardem’s Reiner, in plain and simple English, “Do you want to be a part of this?” He agrees. And this being a McCarthy/Scott film, things go spectacularly wrong. What else do you need to know?
Too little action. What the actual fuck? Dread is omnipresent, lurking around in all the frames (and we have Daniel Pemberton’s excellent, moody score to thank for, which adds to the mounting creepiness). There are at least two scenes that will scare you shitless. And then, there’s violence in those words, in between the lines, in all those phrases left unsaid and also in those which are spoken out explicitly (you’ll see what a bolito does). Like that scene in which Brad Pitt’s character Westray asks the Counselor to steer clear of the ‘deal’ while there’s still time. And then, he makes it clear that the beheadings, the mutilations are just part of the business, to keep the fear alive. It is a chilling scene, an indicator of what’s about to follow, and remarkably performed by both Pitt and Fassbender.
Scott, who is an atheist, also injects some of his own perversity into a scene where a character goes into a confession chamber and confesses (or at least tries to) to a priest about the sins that she’s committed. Initially, I thought this scene did not fit anywhere in the film. After seeing the film for a second time, I see where this one’s coming from. This character is just trying to piss off the priest. She wants to see what it feels like being in a confession chamber and she is aware that she feels no remorse, no matter how much she tries to. At one point, she even tells the priest, ‘Look, I don’t need any forgiveness. Just listen to my sins.’ It’s almost as if she’s laughing in the face of the beliefs and rules that ‘normal’ people adhere to.
I could also give you one more reason to watch the film: Cameron Diaz’s character Malkina fucks a car. Yes, you read that right. No, I didn’t mean a cartoon.
SHE. FUCKS. A. CAR.
Got your attention, haven’t I? Nudge, nudge, wink, wink. But yes, there are also two flaws that I can think of right away – 1) A woman wakes up from what she thinks is a nightmare (this scene reminded me of Raakhee from Karan Arjun. You’ll know it when you see it) and 2) the film would have been all the more edgier if not for the couple of cameos that pop up once in a while. Like my friend @drdang observed, ‘Audiences would have lapped it up in a big way had it been a foreign language film.’ I couldn’t agree with him more. To me, it constantly felt like (and I say this with no intention of belittling Scott’s craft) I was watching an Alejandro Gonsalez Inarritu film. In short, the film is anything but your typical Hollywood fare.
I can go on and on about this film because that’s how rich it is, with all those dialogues and those visuals. And honestly, I don’t expect this film to be everybody’s cup of tea because it simply isn’t. But next time, when Scott chooses to direct a tentpole summer movie like ‘Prometheus’, don’t be a dick about it. Because clearly there isn’t any appetite for restrained and intelligent cinema like this one. Towards the end of the film, one character tells another how easy it is to trade places for a loved one’s life and given the current situation, how impossible it really is. The scene closes with this particular piece of dialog – “The extinction of reality is a concept no resignation can encompass.” Even McCarthy couldn’t have put it any better. But he has.
Few years from now, people will look back at this film and wonder: this is the film we’d ridiculed back then? The year is young and there are 10 more months till we start making top 10 lists but guess what, I already know what one of my top favorites is going to be. Simply put, with this one, Messrs McCarthy and Scott have taken ruthless and cynical filmmaking to lethal heights.