Friday, 3 October 2014

The Counselor by Cormac McCarthy Review


A criminal lawyer gets greedy and decides to make more money by naively dabbling in the drug trade. Then a large amount of merchandise is boosted, the counselor is blamed, and the powerful and extremely dangerous forces of the Juarez drug cartels are unleashed. Misery, torture, and death descends upon the counselor and his comfortable life. 

I don’t usually read screenplays but I was interested in Cormac McCarthy’s foray into the genre of noir/crime films. I also haven’t seen the movie but there’s a lot of big names connected to it to make it seem appealing: Ridley Scott, Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem. After having read The Counselor though, I don’t think I’m gonna bother checking it out - it’s not a great story and pretty people are unlikely to make it better. 

The characters are hard to connect with or care about. They sound like real people generally but occasionally one of them will launch into a very meaningful soliloquy about Life, while the big bad of the story quotes the Spanish poet Antonio Machado every other line to appear intellectual and thoughtful - it doesn’t work. That said, a couple of the monologues are entertaining, though mostly because they’re unconnected to the main story. 

Mostly I wondered what I was supposed to be feeling towards them - was I supposed to like the counselor or his drug trafficking contacts? Was I supposed to root for the Juarez psychos to kill them all, one by one? Because I read this seeing the violence unfolding and didn’t feel anything. Some bad people get killed by other bad people. The story feels like misery for the sake of misery and the point about life is what you make it? Well, yeah, for people privileged with choice - I doubt some kid in a third world sweatshop will have much chance at changing his life no matter how hard he wishes because he got born into a shitty situation. Kind of a dumb pseudo-profound point to make. 

The story is slow-paced to start with, picks up a bit in the middle, and then totally falls apart in the final act. It’s like McCarthy thinks convolution equals inspired storytelling when all it did was sever what little connection I already had with the story and devolve into a confusing mess. That character double crosses this character who was playing off that character against this other character who double crosses this character and this minor character is suddenly the main character? I’d go back and check to try and figure it all out but I don’t think this awkwardly put together script is worth that. 

So, in case you weren’t already aware, the point of The Counselor is that getting mixed up with people who behead others on a daily basis is a BAD thing and should be avoided. That and McCarthy should probably stick to novels!

The Counselor

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