Sun. Jan 23rd, 2022

In his first attempt at screen writing, the 21st century’s finest novelist, Cormac McCarthy, (Writer of “Blood Meridian,” “The Road,” and “No Country For Old Men”) an author who has been looked upon as walking in the shadows of some of the greatest writers such as William Faulkner, has taken a jump into the world of film with his first original screenplay in 2013’s “The Counselor.”
To put it bluntly, McCarthy is without a doubt our greatest living novelist at this point in time. Exploring the darkest corners of the human condition with his beautiful and neo-biblicaly dense prose, while simultaneously revealing the beauty within the human sprit, his take on wordplay is staggering in its descriptions of the physicality of the southern landscape. He also carries an unusually inventive penchant for gruesomely violent weaponry and mystical, God-like lectures on worldview.
“The Counselor,” by director Ridley Scott (“Gladiator,” “Blade Runner,” & “Alien”) is a cautionary, neo-noir thriller of human turpitude and degradation. Nameless and simply referred to as “The Counselor,” a reoccurring pattern of McCarthy’s novels that closely binds to Sergio Leone’s “Man with No Name Trilogy,” Michael Fassbender is a lawyer working in El Paso, who in McCarthy’s words is “a decent man who gets up one morning and decides to do something wrong, and that’s all it takes.” After taking the plunge into marriage by proposing to his youthfully stunning wife (Penélope Cruz), he gets caught in the midst of a petty and inconsequential debt. Making a brass settlement in the decision to capitalize on drug trafficking, The Counselor finds himself in deep waters with the savage Cartel when the deal is hijacked.
There is a substantial amount of people who held high aspirations for a film of this caliber, myself included, given the fact that this is Scott’s and McCarthy’s first collaborative effort. When the literary world’s most elite wordsmith sides with one of cinema’s most lauded commercial directors, the result is almost always destined to be a sure-fire hit. Not far from the reception of Scott’s 2012 film, “Prometheus,” the outcome is bound to split moviegoers.
A good deal of the film’s power resides in its ability to showcase existentially dread-filled grotesque violence. When a thin, braided barbwire decapitates a speeding Kawasaki rider in the middle of a barren desert road, the result is a sinking, God-less feeling that can only be sensed in McCarthy’s vicious world. Keep an eye out for a twisted mechanical device dubbed “Bolito,” that will surely make theatergoers squirm.
An adaptation of McCarthy’s work requires a large emphasis on landscape and scenery. Thankfully, this is director Scott’s strongest practice. Though not as pleasing as Roger Deakin’s fascinating, bone-dry contribution to the 2007 Coen brother adaptation of “No Country,” Scott has an imaginative specialty in the visualization that is all his own.
Nevertheless, “The Counselor” is an unusually mixed bag in its execution. Characters speak in riddled philosophical, Darwin-esqe ramblings that would seldom be heard from real world people. Less personable than your typical on-screen individuals, they take the form of metaphysical caricatures, vocalizing lengthy and diverse cosmological theories. These implemented monologues work exceedingly well in McCarthy’s literary works, but at times can be tougher on translate to screen. The role of Malkina (Cameron Diaz) stands as some sort of Gnostic figure. A cold-blooded, empty shell of a woman who meditates on the underlying, primitive motivations of sexual behavior, she recites bitter statements such as: “Seeing quarry killed with elegance is very moving to me. It always was.” She also owns two Cheetahs, which are symbols of the fierce huntress she is. The idealization of the character is very creative. Sadly, Diaz simply comes across as a lifeless mannequin. From a peripheral standpoint, she fits the part of Malkina entirely, although a good portion of her line delivery is cringe-inducing. These dialects are made marginally better by actors like Bardem, and Pitt who bear some mild ontology of their own, although to a lesser extent.
It is a sure to be an unpopular assessment, but Fassbender shines in the role of “The Counselor.” Many would argue he does not have much material to work with, but development of his arc is veiled in the seemingly trivial interactions he has with others. This is a very conversation-heavy film that is going to leave some people wondering “Why are these discussions so drawn out and what does this have to do with the plot?” There is virtually no singular reason aside from the fact that this is the way McCarthy lets his narrative unfold. The adaptation of “No Country For Old Men” (2007) and “The Road” (2009) had a similar way of storytelling. Show, not tell. Dropped in the heart of the tale, the audience is expected to be sharp enough to put pieces together.
While heavily flawed, my underlining endorsement for “The Counselor” stems from the fact that I am an enormous fan of McCarthy, but I will hereby confess that the slightly sluggish script ranks among his lesser works. The film is at its finest when contemplating the finality of wrong doings and inevitable, permanent consequences. In addition to that, anyone who has had a respect for director Ridley Scott (“Black Hawk Down,” “American Gangster,” and “Prometheus”) might benefit from giving it a chance. While it often appears purposeless and unnecessary, its realistic, eye-opening depiction of the drug cartel makes it worth visiting. Ridley Scott once held the ownership rights to adapt McCarthy’s epic novel Blood Meriden. Often hailed as the greatest novel of the 20th century, it traced the fortunate of a Tennessean kid who slips into a macabre world of Native American scalp hunting during the 1850’s westward expansion. It is a tough book to adapt, but why McCarthy and Scott did not focus their efforts on that, rather then “The Counselor,” I will never know.
Robert Gabe is a third-year student majoring in communication studies. He can be reached at

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