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A lawyer finds himself in over his head when he gets involved in drug trafficking.
For more about The Counselor and the The Counselor Blu-ray release, see the The Counselor Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on February 16, 2014 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, Goran Visnjic, Cameron Diaz, Penélope Cruz, Javier Bardem
Director: Ridley Scott
» See full cast & crew
The Counselor Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, February 16, 2014
Cormac McCarthy's name may only be instantly recognizable to the more literary minded, or at least to those who really pay attention to film credits as they whisk by, but there's little doubt that the acclaimed Pulitzer Prize winning author has had a hand in several well regarded film triumphs. Novels by McCarthy have provided source material for such widely disparate movies as The Road and, perhaps most famously, No Country for Old Men. Many of McCarthy's works have a sort of bleak outlook, with weathered heroes (or anti- heroes, as the case may be) who have paid their dues but also are still dealing with either external crises or, just as often, psychological detritus arising from past traumas and regrets. The Counselor marks McCarthy's first original screenplay, and it, like many of his novels, posits a morally ambiguous lead character whose decisions ultimately spill out into a number of unforeseen ripples, affecting both those around him as well as himself. Also like many of McCarthy's novels, The Counselor is filled with poetic language, beautiful little bons mots which are at once wildly lyrical but also perfectly attuned to whatever character is uttering them. The Counselor raised quite a critical ruckus upon its release, with many reviewers stating it was among Ridley Scott's worst films, but others, notably Variety's chief critic Scott Foundas, taking his colleagues to task for not understanding the film's intentional density and literary ambitions. All one need do is to listen and watch the exhaustive three and a half hour quasi- Maximum Movie Mode appending the film's extended cut on this two disc Blu-ray set in order to realize that, like it or not, The Counselor is a film that a lot of gifted people thought quite carefully about. This is not, in other words, some kind of haphazard thriller cobbled together out of preexisting parts and foisted off on an unsuspecting public as Art, but instead a rather ruminative piece, rather like The American in some ways, that upends several expected tropes in what might more appropriately be seen as a character study (or, indeed, characters study) than as any easily pigeonholed genre film.
While the self destructive tendencies that are often part and parcel of film noir are completely prevalent in The Counselor, in this case there really isn't a traditional femme fatale, despite the presence of Cameron Diaz as a machinating bitch, unless one wants to personify Lady Greed. The film's titular character is indeed only ever called Counselor (Michael Fassbender), an allusion to his trade as a high priced attorney for a certain criminal class. The film treads the treacherous territory between El Paso, Texas and Cuidad Juarez, Mexico, a wide open land that is nonetheless home to a secretive drug trade into which The Counselor willingly gets sucked. Not to be too crass, but a different sort of sucking opens the film, as we find The Counselor and his girlfriend Laura (Penélope Cruz) indulging in some carnal pleasures where The Counselor insists that she "encourage" him by talking dirty to him. It's an odd scene, one that is tonally at odds with the rest of the film, but it at least introduces these characters in a fairly unforgettable way and indicates that they are in the throes of a passionate relationship, something that will ultimately add some emotional heft much later in the film when things start to go horribly, horribly awry.
Two other equally memorable characters are also introduced in the film's opening moments, Reiner (Javier Bardem), a kind of slimy hipster crime lord, and his haughty but playful girlfriend Malkina (Cameron Diaz). These two evidently have a pet ocelot or leopard which they take out on the plains to let scavenge for prey, but which seems equally at home lounging around their luxurious pool. After The Counselor takes a brief sojourn to Amsterdam to buy an engagement ring for Laura (a scene which provides yet another sidebar that includes some inimitable McCarthy dialogue, courtesy of a diamond broker played by Bruno Ganz), he attends a party at Reiner's home where Reiner seems to alternately entice and then discourage The Counselor's interest in some kind of drug deal which the two have obviously been discussing previously.
Though Reiner has obviously cautioned The Counselor that there are risks involved, The Counselor nonetheless moves ahead with a meeting with Westray (Brad Pitt), at which point some plot points start falling into place, and it's clear that there's a huge drug deal in the offing, putting some scenes of a surreptitious truck transport and a solo motorcycle rider seen earlier in the film into context. At about the same time, The Counselor is called on by an inmate named Ruth (Rosie Perez) to get her son, nicknamed The Green Hornet, out of jail after he's picked up for speeding. The Green Hornet turns out to be the motorcycle rider that has been glimpsed in a few previous cutaways. As this tangled web is being woven, on the domestic front The Counselor has proposed to Laura, and she has accepted, with some prophetic words being spoken between them.
It's at this point that The Counselor becomes almost willfully opaque (some might argue willfully more opaque), introducing a few more supporting characters and devolving into a cascading series of subterfuges and shady dealings. Suffice it to say the proposed drug deal doesn't come off as planned, and an increasingly desperate state of affairs ensues, once which soon, yes, sucks The Counselor into its gaping maw. The final third or so of the film plays out like an ineluctable tragedy, one that's perhaps foreseeable but is no less devastating once all the shattered shards are scattered in front of various characters.
Is The Counselor a masterpiece? No. Is it uneven and at times too convoluted for its own good? Yes. That still doesn't mean that this film isn't a unique vision from a madly verbose author and a visually astute director. The film is just stuffed full of incredibly memorable dialogue. Yes, some of it is completely pretentious monologue that seems to have little connection to the already tenuous plot threads, but when we have a detached character like Malkina accused of being cold, and she responds that "I think truth has no temperature", it's obvious McCarthy is attempting something grander here than mere run of the mill film dialogue.
The Counselor meanders a bit in its middle act and then probably extends its final act for a bit too long, and in fact some may actually find the shorter theatrical cut of the film better than Ridley's extended cut, since it streamlines some of the dialogue and action, if only minimally. There are also a few dangling plot threads left hanging, including some of Malkina's motivations and connections. But The Counselor is a riveting experience overall, and while, yes, probably not Scott's best film, certainly worth of being a (sorry for this) guilty pleasure.
The Counselor Blu-ray, Video Quality
The Counselor is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.40:1. This often luscious looking film was shot with the Red Epic, and the image here is almost flawlessly pristine and sharp looking. If you listen to Scott's commentary, you might be surprised to hear how often locations jump from continent to continent, even though the film is supposedly based in a rather narrow swath between Texas and Mexico, and all of those segues are handled seamlessly here. Scott and DP Dariusz Wolsky have color graded scenes variously, with many of the outdoor sequences bathed in a beautiful amber hue that evokes a hot dusty southwestern ambience. But other scenes, like the opening sequence where we see illicit drugs being stored in a canister, are skewed toward a kind of sickly green side of the spectrum. Throughout these changes, fine detail is only minimally affected. Scott tends to exploit close- ups quite a bit throughout the film, which markedly augments fine detail. There are some niggling contrast issues in a few scenes (I personally wished for a bit more shadow detail in the relatively brief diamond sequence), but otherwise, this is a stellar looking transfer.
The Counselor Blu-ray, Audio Quality
From the first moments of The Counselor, when a motorcycle races across an open desert and the soundtrack is filled with a nice panning effect, it's obvious that the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is going to have some excellently immersive channelization. That continues through several set pieces in the film, whether they be the party at Reiner's house or, much later, a really frightening shootout on a deserted desert highway. The film has some very vigorous LFE courtesy of both engines and gunfire at several key points in the film. Dialogue is always very cleanly presented and Daniel Pemberton's odd but effective score also nicely populates the surrounds.
The Counselor Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Counselor Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The Counselor doesn't divulge its secrets easily, and in fact this is one film that virtually requires (at least) a second viewing. Filled with some low key but very effective performances (including a perhaps surprisingly nasty turn by the usually sweet Diaz), and boasting some admittedly flowery but unforgettable dialogue by McCarthy, the film is exciting and disturbing in about equal measure. It's not a typical genre film by any stretch of the imagination, but in my book that's a major compliment. The presentation here is virtually flawless and the three and a half hour hybrid commentary-featurette supplement is outstanding. Highly recommended.
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