Published Feb 25, 2014A nightmarish descent into the fringes of the Mexican drug trade, Ridley Scott's The Counselor is searing and unforgiving in its depiction of a world where unseen violence and menace perpetually lay in wait. Working from a talky script by Cormac McCarthy (No Country For Old Men, The Road), the renowned author's screenwriting debut is a typically hardened morality tale that underlines how the decisions we make can have ramifications beyond those that can possibly be fathomed.
Despite his assertions to the contrary, the titular unnamed Counselor (Michael Fassbender) certainly doesn't seem to be a guy in desperate need of money when he stumbles upon a potentially lucrative opportunity. He has just purchased an expensive diamond engagement ring to propose to his fiancé, Laura (Penelope Cruz), and is in the process of opening a club with wealthy entrepreneur, Reiner (Javier Bardem). But, then, who isn't always in need of a little more money?
Through Reiner and another associate, Westray (Brad Pitt), the Counselor becomes part of a devious plan involving a sewage truck surreptitiously carrying a drug shipment across the border. He's also introduced to Reiner's girlfriend, Malkina (Cameron Diaz), a steely beauty with a love for cheetahs and a single-minded commitment to maintaining her extravagant lifestyle.
Where so many movies use dialogue merely as a means to move the plot along, McCarthy refreshingly allows conversation to dominate for long stretches, as characters pontificate and banter in an unnatural cadence all his own. The actors are forced to elevate their game accordingly to deliver his unique language and, aside from a stilted delivery here and there, it results in some memorable performances across the board.
Diaz is forced to stretch outside her comfort zone the most to play a cold-blooded sociopath and, though she doesn't quite get all the way there, a scene in which she has sex with the windshield of Reiner's car remains one of several indelible moments in the film. As a seemingly random and innocuous twist of fate involving Rosie Perez and a motorcycle rider known as The Green Hornet leads to an unforeseeable hitch in their scheme, an unsettling inevitability hovers over the third act's slow and nerve-wracking unraveling.
The big draw of the supplemental features is an expansive commentary that is chock full of production details and interviews with cast and crew, though it would probably be better if all of these features were accessible separately from the commentary track. Still, Scott's dissection of the difficulties of having Spain and London stand in for Mexico and the US offers a lot of insight into how productions costs were kept relatively low and the undeniable merits of the racier extended cut are best expressed when McCarthy speculates that many of these prudish studio executives must never actually have sex.