The Counselor: Requires a Method of Viewing
A world that a filmmaker presents, its intrinsic meaning must be understood by the viewer during or after watching a film. Film-understanding, a process, takes practice. Film-viewing, therefore, is the only method through which one can train the thought. A film should never be viewed based on the name of the genre or the actor. Otherwise, the process of film-understanding and the method, film-viewing, gets manipulated.
A competent filmmaker like a successful novelist is the sole author of the work. So, film-viewing should be as intimate as one reads a novel. When you pick up a book, it’s mainly due to the author, who's studied by you. Therefore, a filmmaker should also be carefully studied. When a group of avid readers finds an admired author’s work valuable, an aficionado of cinema, like the reader, also should find the work of the filmmaker beneficial.
The Counselor, directed by Ridley Scott and written for screen by Cormac McCarthy is the perfect example of not understanding a film's purpose. It's been dismissed by most critics and film-goers. But it has remained ambitious and intimate as some of the most successful crime thrillers.
The film's story is what makes it brilliant. Not just because it is original or because it’s written by McCarthy. It’s because it’s clean and the viewer is not spoon-fed. And also due to the simplicity of its structure, which coruscates the plot, but abstracted, though intentional.
What we watch in a film can be sometimes unacceptable or can ultimately be disapproved. Though, it doesn’t mean the subject or actions of the characters is wrong or don’t make sense. But, remember, if the film makes sense, although you disagree with the filmmaker, it has always depended on the filmmaker. That’s why it’s essential to always study the filmmaker first.
If the direction of a film is well-executed by the filmmaker, but its subject matter or the characters’ deed is what one dismisses due to disagreement with the end product, the viewer, of any respective field, is wrong, and he—she can no longer pronounce or label the work of the filmmaker a failure.
The Counselor since its release has proven the analysis of its critics of any profession, ethnic background, religious belief and gender, inexact. Those in the field of film criticism, who has nominated the film as tedious, pretentious, have said so without evidence. Their analysis is simply reactions in words due to not approving what the film presents, not because the film is not well made, written or performed.
McCarthy has indeed broken the rules of the screenplay structure, but still has remained honest to the characters. No aspiring screenwriter, though, should follow the method of the author. The only reason he’s gotten away with such method, for he is an established writer. One of the best in the world.
The despotic criticism toward the film, yes, is born due to the source material, though not because how it’s written, but how the story is told. McCarthy’s script, its characters and the world in it still remain intact, proving that in the end what matters the most is always the story, a compelling plot and a cogent conflict.
The conflict that McCarthy introduces the audience is that the central character has his back against the wall. He’s a wealthy lawyer, but a spender. In the first act of the script, he’s been witnessed purchasing an expensive diamond for his inamorata. He’s also not only into spending extensively on gem, but invest in nightclub with fellow friend, Reiner, and worst of all, a drug deal, his very first attempt.
While the central theme of the script is about greed, McCarthy shows how greed utilizes man as an object. The Counselor, the individual is maybe a staunch lawyer, but as a human being he’s deeply flawed. Despite the warnings by Reiner and Reiner's business associate, Westray, the anti-hero of McCarthy’s first screenplay, stays confident. He’s also made aware of cartel being merciless, however, unconcerned he remains.
“Here’s something else for you to think about, Counselor,” says, Westray. “The beheadings and the mutilations? That’s just business. You have to keep up appearances. It’s not like there’s some smoldering rage at the bottom of it. Not that their love of bloodshed in insincere. But let’s see if we can guess who it is that they really want to kill.”
The disagreement of the audience and the critics with the film is that it unfolds most of the action in the background. Though, Scott and McCarthy rather not deal with the schemes of the characters, but their doctrine. This is where lies the film’s strength. The marketing by the studio proposed the film as a frenetic action thriller while it was always a philosophical art, relying heavily on poetic dialogues and mysterious characters like Westray, the Blond and the green hornet, the biker.
No character should be deemed small in a film like this due to his or her screen time. Whatever they do, they do in the background that stylishly moves the narrative forward, tightens the conflict, just like the unbreakable steel wire of the Bolito, the battery-powered decapitation device explained by Reiner to the Counselor in the beginning of the film.
The misunderstanding of the film is also due to the central character not understanding the world he lives in. To the Counselor the drug deal is a one-time deal. As he says, "I don’t intend to take it up as a trade." The Counselor is the absolute definition of a small-scale model of his universe just like us, his audience, all models of this universe.
And the other aspect of the film is that it’s anti-heroic, though not intentionally, for McCarthy just wants to tell a story. His previous work, his novels, does deal with heroism, especially 'The Road.'
The Counselor, however, still is audacious despite the lack of the hero that Hollywood has made the audience and the critics fall in love with. In this film, there are no winners. There can't be. Even Malkina, who has to move abroad. And perhaps just like the Counselor, Westray and Reiner, she, too, will end up being the victim of a Bolito, in a world that she, like the rest, has created for herself.
The film exists, one might ask as to why. The answer is simple. It's because we exist. If we cease to exist, a film like The Counselor will also cease to exist.