News Column

Cape Cod Times, Hyannis, Mass., Tim Miller column

October 25, 2013


Oct. 25--At first I didn't know what to make of "The Counselor."

But now it's the morning after the screening, and the more I think about this strange, and strangely intimidating, collaboration of director Ridley Scott ("Gladiator") and writer Cormac McCarthy ("No Country for Old Men"), the more I am impressed by it.

The movie could be called "The Devil Gets His Due ... and Then Some." It involves a drug deal gone sour and the dire consequences. And when I say dire ... whoa.

The primary characters involved are played by Michael Fassbender (as the title character), Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem and Brad Pitt. (Quite the cast, wouldn't you say? And they're all exceptional here, with Diaz, in femme fatale mode, stealing the film.)

With the exception of Cruz's character, the fiancee of the Counselor, all go into the deal knowing the dangers of connecting themselves to a drug cartel, and all have their motivations for moving forward despite those dangers.

That's certainly a part of what "The Counselor" is about. What draws people not just to crime, but to evil? Greed, sex, ego, ambition, the buzz of the high life are, to varying degrees, factors. And to satisfy these desires, Faustian bargains are struck, with devastating results.

But aside from dealing with why these people do what they do, the film explores what they encounter as a result. The dialogue emphasizes, again and again, that there is no line drawn, that there is nothing some people won't do. There is real evil in the world.

How else to explain sadistic executions for profit or slasher films (young, innocent women being slaughtered on film for the sexual gratification of a high-paying audience)? The Counselor, as he is about to enter a world with these dangers, is warned again and again that such things really exist, and that he's leaving himself vulnerable to falling victim to such heartless violence.

Why would he, and others, continue to take such a gamble? Perhaps because, even if we're made aware of such things, it's hard to imagine they could possibly be real.

But "The Counselor" emphasizes, oh yeah, they're real. There are predators in the world who will tear you apart without a second thought -- and you need to take care not to become one of their prey.

The film is unusually dialogue-heavy, convoluted, downbeat and confusing (at least on first viewing). And, because it's uncompromising, it doesn't provide the kind of satisfaction or closure that a traditional thriller might. Then again, the same could be said for "No Country for Old Men." There's something about that movie that requires repeated viewing. I suspect that the same could hold true for "The Counselor."

Tim Miller's reviews can be found at


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