Title: The Counselor
Author: Cormac McCarthy
Publisher: Vintage Books
Challenges Met: 100+ Reading Challenge, Book to Movie
The story of a lawyer, the Counselor, a man who is so seduced by the desire to get rich, to impress his fiancée Laura, that he becomes involved in a drug-smuggling venture that quickly takes him way out of his depth. His contacts in this are the mysterious and probably corrupt Reiner and the seductive Malkina, so exotic her pets of choice are two cheetahs. As the action crosses the Mexican border, things become darker, more violent and more sexually disturbing than the Counselor has ever imagined.
I was very excited when I heard that Pulitzer Prize-winning author Cormac McCarthy had written a screenplay to be directed by Ridley Scott. The film boasts a stellar cast of Michael Fassbender, Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, Brad Pitt, and Cameron Diaz. The Counselor is McCarthy’s first screenplay.
Unlike his previous books I have read, I wasn’t immediately enthralled with the screenplay. However, the superb cinematography and interpretation by the actors breathed life into story. While I expected more from the talent behind and in front of the camera, I don’t think the movie was as bad as the critical reviews. Maybe because the story was about a drug deal gone wrong, the audience is used to more action so having a lot of chatty dialogue is a turn-off. Many of the critiques reference the several instances of verbose dialogue. While I’ll admit that my mind did wander halfway through Jefe’s (Reuben Blades) speech, the film did selectively choose which of these McCarthy soliloquies to include. For example, deleted from the film was the passage about Semitic culture in a conversation between The Counselor and the diamond dealer.
When I initially viewed the trailer, I thought a couple of the scenes between Fassbender and Cruz were lacking in chemistry including the cheesy tagline: “Have You Been Bad”. However, two scenes — the opening sex scene and the engagement scene — were much better in their entirety and made the relationship between Fassbender and Cruz believable. It would have been nice to see more of Cruz as she virtually disappears in the second half of the movie.
Fassbender, Bardem, and Pitt elevated the written material and while I did like the fact that Cameron Diaz’ character Malkina turned out to the smartest person in the room, I cringed at the scene where she has sex (or whatever she was doing!) with Reiner’s (Javier Bardem) car. The look on Reiner’s face was priceless — just like him, I wished that we could un-see what we had just witnessed.
Okay, so I have to admit a certain bias. I’ve become a huge fan of Michael Fassbender’s work and his involvement in the project was an initial draw. Fassbender, as the Counselor, dominated the scenes he was in and brought his usual intensity as things start spiraling out of control. Fassbender has that ‘King of Cool’ charismatic thing down cold ala the actor Steve McQueen. And like my favorite actor Robert DeNiro, Fassbender always elevates even mediocre scripts.
While many critiques found the film boring, I was engaged throughout except for the scene with Jefe, as mentioned earlier — that speech really could have been cut in half. I’ve actually fallen asleep at some of the more blockbuster movies recently (especially given the fact that I go to the first showing in the morning), such as Pacific Rim and The Hobbit, both which was shown on an IMAX screen.
I think the screenplay may have worked better if the work was an actual McCarthy novel or short story with someone else adapting it for the screen. I felt there was a disconnect between the what was happening in the drug deal scenes and what was happening to the “beautiful people”. It just seemed that GREED was the sole motivation for everyone which made the characters one-dimensional.
There were some notable things that were in the book that did not make the film. For example, Malkina is pregnant at the end of the book and we don’t see the full extent of her intelligence. In the screenplay, she has a clear grasp of technology and computers.