Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Counselor (2013)

There’s simply too much to talk about in regard to The Counselor for it not to remain a topic for a long time ahead. It starts obviously with the expectations, which were enormous up until about a week before its release last October, when heads began to scratch once reviews weren’t showing up. They eventually did, and while a few big names, like Manhola Dargis and Richard Roeper, gave it extensive praise, they were overshadowed by the D grade audience cinemascore, Andrew O’Heir’s explosive lambasting (meet the worst movie ever made, the headline to his review read), the dismal box office showing, and the overall consensus that talent (Cormac McCarthy, Ridley Scott, and a dream cast) doesn’t always equal success.
In short, the reception was powerful, though obviously not in a good kind of way, and thus despite it being a letdown, it certainly seems to have a long life ahead. The question, then, is whether it will be a life fueled by the film’s absurdity and complete disregard for audience hopes, or whether it will be a movie that actually gets reappraised as time goes on (already, though there are hints of a greater acceptance for the picture; the movie needed a breather so people could recover from the shock that it isn’t great and actually begin to consider just how fascinating a piece of cinema it really is; also, the extended cut just out on DVD is already being called the cut of the film, which has led some to give the movie a second chance).

I don’t think there’s quite enough here for The Counselor to ever be called a good piece of cinema, let alone a great film, a la Heaven’s Gate. While that film suffered from unfair attacks on its release, everyone was pretty much right about saying The Counselor was terribly paced, chock full of pseudo-philosophical jargon, and borderline incoherent from a narrative standpoint (also, the story is flat out stupid, and when Dean Morris shows up for a brief scene, we’re reminded how inferior a drug plot this to some of the episodes in Breaking Bad). I think it will end up being these very elements, combined with the talent involved, that will make people to continue to watch it, laugh at it, be disturbed by it, and hopefully discuss it. After all, the emphasis shouldn’t always be on movies that are good, but on the bad ones and not just why, but how they’re bad.

I didn’t actually see the movie during its theatrical run, but after watching the extended cut at home, I found myself intrigued and eager to go over its various elements with someone. It’s the rare bad film that warrants discussion. What exactly is wrong with McCarthy’s monologues? Do they have any virtues? Does Ridley Scott’s direction serve his overall script positively or negatively? Is this movie really unlike anything that’s ever been made?

I’ll go out saying what I found most interesting about it: The balance that McCarthy strikes between the obviously pulpy elements (the tigers, the car sex, Javier Bardem’s hair, the shocking decapitations) and the Everyman nature of the Fassbender character and his attempt for some metaphysical enlightenment. What is McCarthy trying to do? I think he wants to take a normal person who does something very stupid, gets involved in something very real, and go beyond the normal implications of such an act. I need to go back and listen to some of the monologues again, but for now I’m with the consensus that they’re entertaining in their forcefulness, which ultimately keeps McCarthy from saying in the right way what he wants to say. 

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