Friday, October 25, 2013

The Counselor [2013]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (O)  Michael Phillips (2 Stars) (2 Stars)  AVClub (B)  Fr. Dennis (1/2 Star)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
Chicago Tribune (M. Phillips) review (D. Callahan) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review

Do you reject the glamor of evil?
-- Profession of Faith at the Baptismal Rite

About the most positive thing that could be said of the film, The Counselor [2013] (directed by Ridley Scott, screenplay by Cormac McCarthy) was that the wardrobe and makeup people outdid themselves in dressing-up the film's long-long-gone/sinister "power couple," the ever smiling/ever stoned Reiner (played by Javier Bardem) with a perfectly spiked "black sun" hairstyle (Honestly, how could one ever sleep in that, and how much time would it take to get it all groomed to such perfection each morning?) and his quite literally "tough as nails" girlfriend Malkina (played by Cameron Diaz).  I generally NEVER notice nails, but Malkina had PERFECTLY MANICURED "platinum" (or stainless steel ...) colored finger nails that INSTANTLY give one the impression that she was half-human/half-unbelievably-bad-news.  Then she had a LONG, LONG, MEANDERING "leopard style" tattoo that began at her neck and then flowed down her side, down to her a...).  Together the two raised a pair of "snow cheetahs" which they'd let loose each late-afternoon, to  run-down (and kill ...) jack-rabbits on the Texas prairie outside of El Paso where they lived, as they calmly sat drinking shaken flavored martinis and contemplated the sunset each day.  The Devil himself could not have been more exquisitely drawn.

Into their world entered a lawyer, known to us only as "The Counselor" (played by Michael Fassbender).  Already apparently wealthy, he apparently simply had a taste for more.  And so he enters into a fairly "high return" (hence also high risk ...) drug deal with said power couple.  Both Reiner and Reiner's middle-man Westray (played by Brad Pitt) who does Reiner's negotiations across the border with the (Mexican) drug lords warn (indeed try to _counsel_) "the Counselor" that he's getting into a world far more dangerous than his wildest imagination.  But "the Counselor," a dressed-for-success type-A personality lawyer won't take their counsel for caution and jumps right in.  Besides, he has a striking trophy-wife-to-be named Laura (played by Penélope Cruz) who he wants to impress with his prowess/success.

This can't possibly end well... and, of course, it doesn't.  It ends horribly, horribly badly and involves killings so grotesque that if not mirroring the _reality_ of the cross border City of Juarez today, would have no possible place on the screen / story-telling today.

Even then, honestly ... the prophet Isaiah offers good advice:

Hear, you who are far off,
what I have done;
you who are near,
acknowledge my might.

On Zion sinners are in dread,
trembling grips the impious;
“Who of us can live with the consuming fire?
Who of us can live with the everlasting flames?”

He who practices virtue and speaks honestly,
who spurns what is gained by oppression,
brushing his hands
free of contact with a bribe,
stopping his ears lest he hear of bloodshed,
closing his eyes lest he look on evil.

He shall dwell on the heights,
his stronghold shall be the rocky fastness,
his food and drink 

in steady supply.

-- Isaiah 33:13-16  (Morning Prayer Thursday, Week 1)

Yes, there is Evil in this world, but there certainly is no need to glory in it. Honestly, this film is not for the faint-hearted and of little conceivable value to anybody else.

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1 comment:

  1. I must be the only person on planet Earth who liked The Counselor. There, I’ve said it, and so I guess I’m committed. The reviews of this film were so bad back when it was released in the fall of 2013 that I just skipped over it entirely without much thought. I did wonder how a Ridley Scott film of a Cormac McCarthy story (screenplay in this case) with actors that I love to watch, including Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem, could be so bad. After all, No Country for Old Men, a film with the same authorship pedigree, must be one of my all-time top-10 movies in a 55-year history of movie going.

    I am under no illusion that the acting in this film was great or that it was perfectly directed or written. McCarthy is a novelist, after all, and it’s difficult for him to tell a story that can be rendered in 117 minutes. Unlike most screenplay writers, he certainly had more input into this film than is the norm, and that may have hurt the production, even with a strong director like Scott. (Parenthetically, I am told that Scott had to interrupt production when his brother, director Tony Scott, passed away.) The viewer is clearly expected to fill in a lot of holes and find pieces to connect the puzzle. Without the aforementioned powerful entertainment names, this film would have probably never been created. However, this production was more than adequate to make its points perfectly.

    One more small bit of preamble. This should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. This film is not for everyone. It’s certainly not for children, or for sensitive, sweet dogs in your TV room, and it’s probably not even suitable for many mature teens. It also may not be suitable for most priests or for most of the people who loved The Sound of Music.

    Father, let me go ahead with the moral aspect of this story since that’s the perspective from which I and most of your readers approach media and entertainment. Michael Fassbender’s character, the counselor as he is known throughout the film, has made a decision in his life from which there is no return. He has resolved that to get his finances back in order he must do this single criminal act after which he would never again be involved in illegality—in this case it’s a drug deal that would destroy thousands of lives of impoverished and otherwise disadvantaged people who would undoubtedly commit other crimes to pay for their habit. These bottom-of-the-ladder people go unmentioned; however, we do have a sacrificial lamb, the innocent person in this story, who will pay the price for her lover’s stupidity and evil.

    Before condemning this film out of hand, I believe it’s important to reflect on a few of the last sequences in the story where the counselor receives a DVD with a Sharpie-written “Hola!” on its face. He never has to look at the video embedded in this piece of plastic, a wafer that he beholds. His imagination then reveals the truth of his sin, and it will destroy him utterly and totally. As much as I appreciated this film, I was glad when it was over—kind of like that horrific nightmare from which you awake and ruminate over for days afterward. I saw no glory in the brutality inherent in this film.

    Voluntary stupidity is mental and moral laziness. It is a sin that carries incomparable costs because once the ball is rolling it is unstoppable. The dominoes fall and the tragedies accumulate and can never be undone.