The Counselor (2013)

Seems like everybody has to be a drug dealer nowadays. I place blame solely on Mr. White, that damn chemist.

A counselor (Michael Fassbender) has the life we would all like to live: Nice job, nice house, nice wife he so frequently pleasures (Penelope Cruz) and all sorts of other glamorous things around him. However, the life we would all like to have, apparently isn’t enough for him, which gets him involved with the drug-trafficking business in hopes of making some extra cash-flow here and there on the side. This is when the counselor gets involved with shady characters like Reiner (Javier Bardem), Westray (Brad Pitt) and perhaps the most suspicious of all, Malkina (Cameron Diaz), who seems like she has more up to her sleeve then just banging the hell out of her boyfriend and automobiles. Maybe she has something to do with this drug-dealing business which, as a result, draws further consequences for the counselor and all of his fellow associates involved with this deal that suddenly goes sour.

There’s been a lot said about the Counselor, and most of it is deserved. It is an odd piece of filmmaking, filled with more uneven pieces than actual comprehensive ones, but somehow, it works. See, the film’s marketing really created a shit-storm for this because it seemed like all it promised was non-stop sex, drugs, bullets, murder and DEA agents. However, that couldn’t have been further from the truth as this is more or less, another crime-thriller in the vein of last year’s Killing Them Softly: It’s all about pacing, baby. Pacing, pacing, pacing. And if you’re willing to stick by it, even when it does get incredibly strange, then you’ll find yourself happy and confused.

Don’t worry, those feelings are good because it’s abundantly clear that Ridley Scott and Cormac McCarthy both want you to feel this way.

He really needs something more?
He really needs something more?

Making a mention of Cormac McCarthy is probably the most important aspect in reviewing this movie because while some out there may not be familiar with him before seeing this movie, it’s almost imperative of you to know that his style of writing is not one that mixes so well with movies. Yes, he does have a stylish tongue that he likes to use on all of his characters and he definitely doesn’t have the happiest outlook on the world surrounding him, but because I already knew this, the movie was an easier pill to swallow than it most likely was for some, even in its weirdest moments.

The weird moments that i continue to allude to come at you aplenty here, but the most infamous one that seems to be getting the most attention, is the scene where Cameron Diaz’s character bangs a car. Honestly, this scene is so random, so strange and so out-of-place, that I honestly wondered who the hell saw this in the final-cut and thought it was okay to leave in. I get that it was supposed to be telling us that this character was not your normal female heroine, as in that she definitely likes to get what she wants right away, but it was just too distracting to get by, no matter how understandable the character’s motivations were. The only thing making it easier to get through this scene is Javier Bardem’s crazy faces and narration, which can be even more painful to see and hear, all because you’ll wonder what movie it is that you’re watching after awhile.

Thankfully, right after this scene, the movie gets somewhat back on track and shows us how these characters respond when shit begins to hit the fan. Everything leading up to this half, don’t get me wrong, was good because it focused a lot on dialogue and the setting-up of what would be a very tense final-half; but once this half kicks in, you do realize that the cast has finally taken notice of the type of material they’re given to work with, which is also, oddly enough, when Scott decides to throw some of his artistic-direction in as well. And as odd as it may be to say, this is probably the least “Ridley Scott-ish” movie he’s ever done. Not only is he restrained, but any moments that give him a free-reign to just get nuts with the look of the film, he somehow backs out on. Can’t say I was disappointed with seeing this, considering that the material didn’t seem like it demanded much of an overbearing style to get in the way of it, but I did also wish I saw some more of Ridley Scott in here. Just a shaky-cam bit or two. At least.

But I can’t get on Scott’s case too much because he does do the nice deed of letting the cast and script come together in a way that this flick so desperately needed in order to survive and stay interesting. And what a great coming-together of actors and material, save for one that I’ll get onto in a bit. Leading the cast is Michael Fassbender who, if you don’t know by now, is not just the most handsome mofo in the whole world, but also one talented dude as well that seems to be popping up more and more now for American audiences to get used to. While this won’t make him a household name by any stretch of the imagination, his role as the counselor shows us that he’s able to handle a film like this all to himself, where he practically goes from one character to the next, talking, showing emotion, giving each one of them a different piece of his personality and just creating a person that we can either loathe, or love. But sometimes with this character, it’s at the same time because he isn’t the most moral guy in the world, but then again, he isn’t the most evil one either; he’s just a guy trying to make some few extra bills here and there, in order to make a life for his wife more glamorous than it already is. He’s greedy for sure, but he isn’t a terrible person for that; he’s just a person. Plain and simple.

Fassbender’s best parts in this movie come mainly from the scenes he each has with both Javier Bardem and Brad Pitt, which makes it all the more tragic that all three never show up on-screen together at one point. Disappointing, but at least we still get to see them all act their asses off and have fun while doing so. Bardem has that crazy hair going on, but gives his character plenty of personality to where you really like the dude, but due to the company he surrounds himself with, you still never quite know if he can fully be trusted. And as for Pitt, well, needless to say, the guy steals the show everytime he shows up, which is sadly only about 15-minutes out of the whole 2-hour run-time. Pitt not only fills his character with plenty of wistful charm and coolness, but also gives him a slight humane-aspect as well, that somehow has him come off as the most reasonable human-being in the whole movie. The character only seems like he could be written for the screen, and yet, he still comes off like a relateable guy that knows what type of business he’s dealing with, and won’t think twice about who he throws under the bus, once that time eventually comes around.

"Yee-haw, baby. Yee-haw."
“Yee-haw, baby. Yee-haw.”

The boys in the cast have plenty to play with, which is good, but also disappointing as well, considering that the girls don’t fare quite as well. Penelope Cruz is underused, but sweet, soft and a bit sassy with her performance as the counselor’s girl who doesn’t always nag him about what he’s doing for most of the hours of the day, and is just happy to know that he’s alive, safe and still loves her. Total girl of his dreams, as well as all of ours, indeed.

However, I would have traded a whole flick dedicated wholly to Cruz’s character, if that meant we didn’t get a single scene of Cameron Diaz’s Malkina, all because she is absolutely, positively terrible in this movie and it gets very, very hard to watch after awhile. I remember when this flick first got announced and its cast was shown to us, I remember thinking that Cameron Diaz had herself an Oscar-nominee in the bag because the character of Malkina wasn’t the type we usually associate her with. There’s no inkling whatsoever of a heart, a soul or even the typical charm we usually see come from her performances; she’s actually the total opposite, which is probably the biggest problem with Diaz’s performance in the first place. Not only can she not play-against type to save her life, but she’s so outmatched by everybody else here that it makes you wonder who the hell she beat out for this role to get it. The accent she supposedly has, goes in, and it goes out; everytime she talks about something, she’s supposed to come off as “one bad-ass bitch”, but instead, seems like she’s trying WAY too hard; and if you don’t include her previously-mentioned scene where she humps a car, there’s no arch whatsoever to be found in this character, but it doesn’t hurt as much because you don’t care. I’ll give Diaz some credit for stepping out of her comfort-zone and doing a total 180, but it comes off more like a miscast opportunity, then a respectable one in terms of her career and where it’s going. Can’t say that same thing for the others here, only her.

Consensus: Definitely not the type of film its marketing has been promising, which is why, for better or worse, the Counselor is worth a watch to see what happens when you give a good cast, some worthy material, and just let them do their thing, as odd as that “thing” in question may be at times.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

This is when it all begins.....
The car is so willing…..

Photo’s Credit to:


  1. This is the only “positive” review I’ve read. Great review and well written, as your reviews are, but I’ll disagree. It’s not the worst but my least favorite film of the year so far.

  2. I didn’t seem Diaz’s Malkina as being a horrid performance. I just thought it was too obvious. Like a lot of the film.

    Rather I saw MCarthy script as having far too many minutes given over to pseudo profundities.. And he repeated them one after another – from Bardem’s Reiner, to Ganz as the diamond merchant in Amsterdam, to Pitt’s Westray, to the first guy Fassbender went to first advice, before we had to listen to Ruben Blades, as the head of the cartel do his bit on pontificating. Even Jon :eguizamo as the caret;s guy in Chicago gave us more of the same.. And if that wasn’t bad enough – everything that every character spoke about, came to pass. This foretelling might not have seen always so.obvious, but once things began to happen, you realize that everything was spoken of ahead of happening.

    All of that turned what should have been a crime thriller suspense drama in to something like The Tree of Life.

    For all of McCarthy’s writing skills what he did was to to turn a movie into a book. Still – ghe film is worth seeing.

    • I noticed that too. Especially with the snuff-film. Still, all problems aside, the movie is still worth seeing, if only for the very good ensemble on full, public display.

  3. Everything about the story is strong, it’s execution is really where it faltered. That being said, I really enjoyed it. The performances are stellar, the dialogue, although dense is smart and engaging, and the violence and sex is hypnotic. Terrific review by the way :).

    • Thanks! The cast is what really made this work, and eventually, once they got past all of the non-stop philosophizing and exposition, the story did surprisingly come together. It just took quite some time to get there.

  4. I saw this last night, and I had a very, very similar reaction (and rating). The film lacked a good third act, the character motivations were somewhat random at times, the dialogue was too elevated for its own good, and Cameron Diaz was horribly miscast (as you mentioned). Great review, as always!

  5. I thought I enjoyed it a lot more than I did right when I got out of the theater but after I thought about it more it just didn’t work for me. The cast was so strong and I found Scott’s direction strong but restrained, like you mentioned. We can both agree that Diaz was utterly miscast in the pivotal role. The more I think about it, Angelina Jolie would have been perfect for that part.

  6. Thanks for reviewing this. Its a really good review. I do want to see this and it isn’t released in the UK until 15th November. I may see it in the cinema but I will wait to see more reviews. I do think that this film has been hyped up a great deal and it would struggle to meet expectations.

    • Thanks! If you know what you’re getting yourself involved with, then you’ll most likely like this one. If not, then you’re in for a death sentence.

  7. Did you ever figure out what exactly Michael Fassbender’s role in the whole drug deal was? I thought I had the plot figured out, but my conclusion left his character out entirely. So either I’m wrong, or he was just tagging along in the middle for no reason. Either way, it doesn’t speak too well for the film.

  8. Nice review, Dan. And I’m glad to see someone else actually liking this, ’cause I honestly feel like we’re in the minority at this point, lol. But yeah, I dug the hell out of this movie. 🙂

  9. Mark me up as another that didn’t care too much for this. And Dan, Ridley has rarely, if ever, been known to employ shaky cam (the cinematography in his films is often well thought out and filled with sweeping landscapes). Perhaps you’re thinking of Ridley’s late brother, Tony- he was notorious for his trademark quick cuts and frenetic editing…

  10. Great review! I’m still super curious about this movie but it seems to me they didn’t cut out enough of pseudo-intellectual bullshit out of the script. There was so much talking for the sake of talking there. Shame they didn’t spend that time to flesh out the characters more.

  11. I like your review because I left the theater thinking, how the heck am I going to do a review of this movie, when I barely know what it was about??? I’m still confused. I did like BP’s performance the best, and I don’t think I care for Michael Fassbender, because he’s going with Lenny Kravitz daughter WHO IS THE SAME AGE AS MY DAUGHTER…GROSS. I can’t seem to separate that from his acting unfortunately. And Cameron Diaz, was like you said not great in this role. But I did like her eye liner and 2 little moles under each eye, did you catch that lol. Ok very good review, I don’t know what I’m gonna do for mine yet.

  12. I loved how they played with story structure here. It’s a film that wants to challenge the audience and I love that. It’s the best film I’ve seen all year.

  13. I thought Diaz was quite good as Malkina. Maybe it’s because she is usually so dreadful in everything else. I thought her performance echoed Kristin Scott Thomas’ in Only God Forgives – tough as nails but a lot more sexy. And while that carfucking scene does come out of nowhere, it is pure McCarthy and I LOVED it. Bardem telling that story will always remain one of the highlights of this film. I’m glad you enjoyed it. We seem to be the few in the far between…

  14. Great review but you liked it more than I did! Angelina Jolie was originally cast in the Cameron Diaz part. Still puzzled by some of the weird casting decisions. And never have I seen such totally unsexy sex scenes!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s