Counselor, The (US - BD RA)
Jonathan watches McCarthy and Scott collaborate at last... and it's weird...
A savvy lawyer (Fassbender) known for doing the right thing for the wrong people decides to put his connections to the test by diving into a treacherous drug deal for some quick cash. But the Counselor soon learns that having it all could mean losing everything. (From the Fox synopsis)
It isn't the "Double X" Blood Meridian adaptation that Ridley Scott wanted to make, but he is finally collaborating with Cormac McCarthy, and on McCarthy's first screenplay. There's a recipe here for something interesting. Things start off simply enough. Michael Fassbender is The Counselor. That is the only name we ever know him by. He's in love with Laura (Penelope Cruz) and wishes to marry her. He wants to make some fast money so he gets involved in a drug business that he feels has little risk for him. He is never getting his hands dirty, everything is handled through connections. Of course this backfires, and things gradually spin out of control as the players involved find themselves in danger.
When you boil The Counselor down to it, the message of the movie is simple: don't do bad things, or bad things will happen to you. It doesn't get much more complicated than that, but Cormac McCarthy's screenplay might trick you into thinking there is more going on. Every character talks cryptically and has a philosophy to share about every situation. It is enough to drive some people crazy, but I found appeal in just how weird the overall result is. Among the many bizarre qualities there are CGI cheetahs, septic tanks, ridiculous beheading devices, and someone.. violates a car. This is a really strange movie.
The majority of the runtime is spent observing conversations between The Counselor and his connections to the drug world. There's a wide cast of characters, and on their own each of these little conversation pieces would make a good short film. Brad Pitt's Westray is one of the connections. He's a southern man who seems to have already been involved in some deals that have went south. His weirdest partner is Reiner (Javier Bardem upping his weird hairstyle count). His fake tan and spiked hair make him look like an absolute joke, and Bardem seems to be having a blast hamming it up as a drug lord. Then there is Cameron Diaz as the enigmatic Malkina. She's Reiner's eccentric lover and the complete opposite of Cruz's Laura. Most of the cast is doing quality work, but Diaz feels miscast. I had difficulty buying her in the bad girl role, and the shifting unidentifiable accents didn't help. She reportedly dubbed many of her lines in post, which could explain the inconsistency.
This is a movie built almost entirely on vagueness. Every character carries this unexplained mystique and, as previously mentioned, talks like a philosopher. It can get a bit exhausting. This material can work really well at times, like when an old cartel lectures the Counselor on the reality of his situation. It is less effective when just moments later, a poor bartender articulates the same point. All these scenes of talking are broken up occasionally with punctuated scenes of violence and mayhem. Cormac McCarthy seems to have a thing for weird weapons (think No Country for Old Men and you get to see another one in all its awful detail here. The tension ratchets up significantly when the Counselor's deal finally goes south, and I can safely say I was never bored. It all doesn't add up to a very significant whole, but this movie is such an oddity that I can't help but like it anyway. It's something only Ridley Scott and Cormac McCarthy could've made together.
A quick note about the extended cut: Sadly I do not have the time to do a full comparison between cuts, and it has been a while since I viewed the theatrical version. That said, this longer cut left a better impression on me. This is no Kingdom of Heaven where the movie is completely transformed. If you made up your mind about The Counselor from the theatrical version, it isn't likely to change with the added material.
Fox's 1080p transfer of The Counselor is as good as you can hope for. I was surprised to find that it was shot on the Red One camera. I would've guessed this was an Arri Alexa from the look of the film. Scott's direction is slick and many scenes feel like they have their own color palettes. The opening scenes where Malkina watches a cheetah chase its prey have a seriously strong yellow filter to them, but most of the movie has a very natural look to it. Outdoor scenes are both bright and overcast at different times. Indoor scenes look natural too, but Scott finds interesting architecture and visuals to keep the image interesting. Detail is very strong. I was often able to make out the stitching in some of the finer suits these drug businessmen wear. The most visually striking mashups of color come from Reiner's ridiculous wardrobe. The interior of his house is also colorful and alluring in this strong transfer. Contrast feels spot on, with darker areas of the picture remaining strong but never crushing. Artefacts are not an issue.
Even though The Counselor is 90% talking heads, Ridley Scott knows how to put out a polished product. This DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is busy. Most often the surround channels are used to disperse Daniel Pemberton's subtly effective score. There's plenty of footage of vehicles on the movie. From a crawling septic truck to a motorcycle speeding through the desert, these vehicles move around the sound mix and are appropriately loud. So is the gunfire in one cartel shoot out. As bullets pelt a truck you hear the noise echoing through the room. The dialogue is all clearly recorded and perfectly easy to interpret, but there are subs on both the theatrical and extended versions if you want them. This is a well crafted piece of sound mixing that is far more lively and dynamic than the material calls for.
Features start on the theatrical cut disc with Viral Pieces: Uncut (HD, 07:29) is a set of surreal viral marketing clips that were made for the film. There are three. The first features Laura speaking with a business man about marriage. The second has Counselor buying lingerie, and the third shows Malkina and Reiner first meeting at a gas station. The only other extras on this disc are a set of Theatrical Trailers and TV Spots.
On the extended disc is an interesting feature called Truth of the Situation: Making the Counselor. This is similar to that Maximum Movie Mode you see on some WB titles. It plays the extended cut of The Counselor with a Ridley Scott commentary over it, then from time to time the movie will transition away into a making-of segment with cast/director/writer interviews. Scott, McCarthy, and the primary cast members all weigh in on various themes and aspects of the production. With it all tied together, the full running time is 217 minutes. I'm starting to understand the extended cut running time typo that came with the Blu-ray announcement.
Sadly, there is no way to watch the movie with Scott's commentary outside of this special feature. I thought maybe it would be included as a separate audio track if I just played the extended cut, but it's not. So if you want the full commentary in one sitting you are going to have to buckle up for the 217 minute ride or employ the fast-forward button every few minutes. The featurettes embedded in this option can be viewed individually through the special features section of the main menu. Despite the commentary restrictions, it is nice to see a movie that did poorly at the domestic box office get this kind of treatment on Blu-ray.
Ridley Scott and Cormac McCarthy have collaborated at last, and the result is something so strange only these auteurs could've created it. I realize I'm in a minority by liking this movie. The frequent morality speeches and scattershot narrative will be an understandable turn off for many, but there is enough intriguing material and expert craftsmanship on hand here for me to make a cautious recommendation. Fox's Blu-ray release is top notch in the AV department, and the Truth of the Situation special feature delivers a lot of good bonus content for Ridley Scott fans.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Jonathan Hogberg
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 11th February 2014
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Theatrical: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, English Descriptive Audio 5.1, Dolby Digital Spanish 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1 French - Extended: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Subtitles: Theatrical: English SDH, Spanish - Extended: English SDH, Spanish, French
Extras: Theatrical and Extended Unrated Versions, Viral Pieces: Uncut, Truth of the Situation: Making the Counselor
Easter Egg: No
Director: Ridley Scott
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Penélope Cruz, Cameron Diaz
Genre: Crime, Drama and Thriller
Length: 117 minutes
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