DIR: Ridley Scott • WRI: Cormac McCarthy PRO: Paula Mae Schwartz, Steve Schwartz, Ridley Scott, Nick Wechsler • DOP: Dariusz Wolski • ED: Pietro Scalia • DES: Arthur Max • MUS: Daniel Pemberton • DES: Simon Rogers • CAST: Brad Pitt, Goran Visnjic, Michael Fassbender, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz
In the eighties Jean-Jacques Beineix’s Betty Blue began midst an intimate moment between Betty and Zorg. Sex sells. Directed by Ridley Scott and written by Cormac McCarthy The Counsellor begins during an arguably more intimate moment between Michael Fassbender as the counsellor and Laura played by Penelope Cruz.
Out of bed and on route to Amsterdam to buy Laura the most fabulous of engagement rings the counsellor stops by for a meeting, somewhere in Mexico or America, with Reiner, played by Javier Bardem. There is a lot of talking and while the exact nature of the men’s relationship is unclear they are involved in a drug deal and Reiner wants to make sure the counsellor, as everyone calls him, is aware of the risks involved. The counsellor then meets with Westray, (Brad Pitt), who is also involved in the deal. He too warns the counsellor of the potential dangerous consequences and tells him that he has his escape plan in place should anything go wrong.
Later in a jail somewhere (and the wondering as to which side of the border he is on is confusing while trying to follow the plot) the counsellor has a meeting with a client whose son has been arrested and can’t pay his speeding fine. The counsellor agrees to get him out of prison but unknowingly upsets someone in the process. This creates a problem, which the film follows through to its conclusion.
There are no doubts in this film about how good an actor Michael Fassbender is but while Penelope Cruz plays Laura with great skill she is not convincing as a naïve innocent young girl, nor is her friendship with the sociopath Malkina (Cameron Diaz). Malkina is Reiner’s partner in business and sex and appears to be he mastermind behind the whole business. Diaz plays the role to deadpan perfection although the scene in which she “has sex with a car” probably isn’t necessary. Bardem works well dressed in Versace as the slouchy decadent drug dealer as does Brad Pitt as Westray. But the film lacks something. It is 119 minutes long and while it doesn’t drag, it just never really builds up any tension.
What it lacks I can’t quite put my finger on but in the credits gave me an idea. Firstly The Counsellor was filmed on location in London and Spain and not in America or Mexico where it is located. And secondly the final credit is a note saying “The making and authorized distribution of this film supported over 13,000 jobs and involved hundreds of thousands of work hours.” It is important, especially in these times of austerity, to be reminded how valuable filmmaking can be to a local economy. It’s a very good reason for governments to offer tax incentives and encourage international filmmakers to make films on their shores but it doesn’t mean you can make any film anywhere. I know an argument can be made that the film is character driven and greed is a universal story and so can be filmed anywhere but Ridley Scott’s Thelma and Louise could only have been satisfied by the Grand Canyon; in his Blade Runner, the futuristic city’s design is essential to the film and in No Country for Old Men, the film based on Cormac Mc McCarthy’s novel of the same name, it is the landscape binding the characters and the film together that is memorable. I’m wondering if maybe the film lacked an authenticity of place and perhaps that’s a reason why the characters didn’t feel quite real?
There are many reasons to want to see this film. Cormac Mc McCarthy’s novel All the Pretty Horses is the most beautifully paced novel I have ever read, the idea of seeing his first screenplay is exciting. The film is directed by Ridley Scott and stars the very established Michael Fassbender alongside Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Cameron Diaz and Brad Pitt. I was disappointed but maybe I expected too much.
16 (See IFCO for details)
The Counsellor is released on 15th November 2013