Friday, 22 November 2013

The Counsellor

Take five of Hollywood's most beautiful A-listers, add a dynamic and complex script, motives of greed and power which are pursued with ruthlessness and you get a fast moving, violent and engaging film about drug supply in the USA. Well, that's the glossy veneer that the eyes see - but if you look a little more deeply and listen with greater intent you find a film that explores the relentless logic of the consequences of the choices that are made.

Directed by Ridley Scott and written by Cormac McCarthy (No Country For Old Men, The Road) this was always going to be a beautifully made and intellectually engaging film. In some ways it is quite similar to No Country as its pretext is a Tex-Mex drug deal involving a Mexican cartel shipping a consignment of cocaine from Colombia to Chicago in a tanker full of sewage. All pretty routine.

The central character, The Counsellor (Michael Fassbender) is a lawyer who decides to try and make a lot of money very quickly by underwriting a shipment of drugs. All of his associates tell him to be very careful as the cartels don't mess around. His naivety - especially in seeing business partners as friends - leaves him exposed, weak and vulnerable. Of course, things do not go to plan and the cartel exact revenge on those they think responsible.

The two female characters Laura (Penélope Cruz) and Malkina (Cameron Diaz) are presented as stunning beauties but in every other respect could not be more different. This is the first time I have seen Diaz play a character who is utterly frightening, ruthless and will stop at nothing to ensure she gets her way. Irrational, clever, manipulative, sadistic and gluttonous, she wants it all - now! Cruz' character on the other hand is gentle and innocent - way in over her pretty head.The other two leads are Reiner played by Javier Bardem and Westray played by Brad Pitt. Bardem is utterly compelling and Pitt seems to play himself but on a bad day.

Viewers will need to pay attention to the dialogue as little clues are dispensed in throw-away lines that later take on an importance that their original context failed to register. Early on in the film a new assassination device is described and I spent the whole film waiting to see if it would be deployed - I was not disappointed. As far as I recall, none of the characters are ever depicted 'doing drugs' - alcohol, seems to be the drug of choice - but usually in a cocktail glass unless it is a piece of blatant product placement.

There is no doubt that this is a clever and extremely well-made film. Did I enjoy watching it? Enjoy is not the word I would use - I'd be more likely to speak well of its intellectual engagement. Whether you choose to see it as a morality tale or an essay on existential philosophy, my guess is that some viewers will see and take from the film those things they choose to be impacted by. For others it will simply be an action film with pretty people and fast cars. I wonder if it tries to be a little too clever. It's not one I would hurry to see again or add to my disc collection when released. Having said that, some of the film's visual and aural images will stay with me for a long time! I'll give it 7/10.

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