Average User Score: 4.8Oct 27, 2013This review contains spoilers, click expand to view. The Counselor is one of the best films I have seen in years--mesmerizing, ethereal, even captivating in spite of the theme. Critics expecting, or insisting on, an action-adventure genre picture where everything is neatly solved at the end were disappointed, and responded hyperbolically. The film will fail at the box office in this country, but it doesn't fail as a film. Here are a few random thoughts, in no particular order:
First, the Counselor himself is not an innocent, naive, or likable figure (except in his relationship with Laura). He is from the beginning a morally compromised player--as we can see in his arrogance, in his dealings with women, with Reiner, and with the mysterious figure who gets him to El Jefe, and even in his odd question to Westray about whether he has slept with Malkina. Now that everything in his life seems perfect, he is driven to destroy it, piling on debts that put his "back against the wall" and "force" him to get involved with the drug deal. In reality he is driven to annihilation by something inside him. (I thought of Freud, Civilization and its Discontents).
Second, we know very little about the drug deal and how it falls apart, and that little we do know is given to us in bits and pieces. We are exactly in the place of the protagonist, who also is surrounded by a menace he does not fully understand. It is a very uncomfortable place. In the end there is nothing he can do, except aimlessly travel and plead. By the time he realizes he is in trouble, it is already too late. The idea that human individual action may be useless is one that is hard to accept. We want to see the hero solve things, and we aren't going to get that here.
Third, the dialogue is gorgeous and endlessly quotable, just as the film itself is beautifully shot, edited, visualized.
Fourth, the sequence that ends the life of Westray is one of the most chilling horror scenes I have ever watched. It is described for us early on; we feel the suspense as Westray is followed, and then we are left to watch as the horrific scene, whose ending we already know, plays out.
Fifth, and finally, the performances are first rate. Pitt, Bardem, Cruz, Diaz, Blades, Perez, Leguizamo, and others are at the top of their form. Fassbender in particular is a stand-out for his ability to create a character from a sparsely written role. The best scene, in retrospect, is his phone conversation with El Jefe, photographed through his dirty windshield. El Jefe gently but ruthlessly tells him that it is over and there is nothing for him to do. Fassbender's pleas--"Maybe we could meet someplace"; "Can you help me?" are, like all of his dialogue, almost banal (in contrast to the glorious words of the rest) but he is able to use that contrast to create an unforgettable character. We don't know what happens to him at the end. It would almost be too much to bear.
I'm sorry that this film is not doing well at the box office in the US. My only consolation is that this film--like Vertigo, Touch of Evil (which it resembles in some ways), or Blade Runner itself--will get its reevaluation, and be seen as the classic that it is.… Expand