Opinion Piece – Who’s to blame for The Counselor?

The Counselor

Investigation conducted by Eddie on 15/11/2013

With the critical, box office and audience reception failure of The Counselor it feels right to look into just what or who made this film just so downright bad.

Whilst a films failure should never be pointed solely at one person there can however be an analysis of the people involved in the project and the elements of the film that worked against it. Delving into the dark abyss of this film is no easy task so without further ado I put on my detective cap and look to address and discover a reason we can hold onto as to why this film is the film it is.

Suspect 1 – The Director

Ridley Scott

Ridley Scott

Poor old Ridley Scott, the man who has given us such cinematic treasures like Alien, Blade Runner and Gladiator has had a rough trot over the last decade or so. One feels that Scott has lost some of his passion and originality when it comes to filmmaking and it shows like never before in this film.

Scenes are directed blandly and actors allowed to over act under his watch which is made all the worse by seemingly countless opportunities to spice up proceedings with a little flair or enthusiasm. Scott’s direction here could be summed up simply as plain boring.

Suspect 2 – The Screenwriter

Cormac McCarthy

Cormac McCarthy

I can proudly say that McCarthy is one of my personal favourite writers, a man that wowed me with such books as The Road and the seriously awesome and just waiting to be filmed Blood Meridian. I cannot so proudly say however that McCarthy’s first written for screen story is a meandering mess.

It’s abundantly clear that McCarthy paid no attention to conforming to a normal script writing process which is fine if it weren’t so off putting in a final product. The script comes to life on screen in a mess of scene after scene of cringe worthy dialogue filled with hatred towards women, awkward fish references and metaphors that never once don’t feel forced. McCarthy’s script therefore is an unquestionable failure.

Suspect 3 – The Cast

Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, Javier Bardem, Cameron Diaz, Penelope Cruz

The Counselor

An actor is only as good as the material they are presented with so it would be harsh to criticise The Counselor’s top notch cast to much. Pitt and Fassbender escape the picture with the most amount of dignity while real life couple Bardem and Cruz are merely okay in their somewhat limited roles. Which leaves us with one principal cast member in the form of the ever plastic looking Cameron Diaz.

Miss Diaz reaches a career low point here in her role as the feisty and smart Malkina and again while an actor is only as good as their material Diaz’s overplaying and show-boating turn gives cringe worthy a new meaning.

Suspect 4 – You

The Audience


Perhaps it is we the cinema going audience that are just too darn dumb to get the whole picture here. Maybe all involved are sitting back laughing at us mere mortals who can’t quite understand why we are listening to catfish references or watching Michael Fassbender dribble into his beard.

One day perhaps the mysteries of The Counselor will be unlocked and it will become “cool” to like the film and McCarthy’s script will be hailed as pure unbridled genius!

Suspect 5 – Javier Bardem’s wardrobe

Bad shirts and tight pants

Javier Bardem

As much as it would be grand to blame the entire film on Bardem’s clothing and creepy fake tan it would also feel like to much of a cop out. I really do just want to point out though – look at how bad this man is dressed! Not something to show the grand kids that’s for sure.

Judges verdict

I must repeat my earlier statement that a films failings cannot be solely pointed at one person or element. Having said this however in regards to The Counselor the majority of blame must fall upon, drum roll please ……..

Cormac McCarthy

Cormac McCarthy

The film which undoubtedly could of benefited from some more complete direction by Scott is really built upon McCarthy’s prose of sin and life so therefore was cursed from the beginning when McCarthy’s script was allowed to gestate into the filmed product. With clunky unbelievable dialogue, unlikeable characters and a conclusion that will prove much more bewildering than No Country for Old Men, I think we have discovered the main culprit for this Razzie baiting turkey.

What did you think of The Counselor? Is it misunderstood genius or is someone else other that poor old Cormac to blame for its lameness? Let us know in the comments below!

37 responses to “Opinion Piece – Who’s to blame for The Counselor?

  1. I have not yet subjected myself to this movie, but this was McCarthy’s first screenplay. Remember that not even an author of Fitzgerald’s stature was able to produce a good script when he came to Hollywood. Ridley Scott, on the other hand, has made film his life’s work. He created Thelma and Louise, Alien, Blade Runner and Gladiator. He should have known better than to go forward with a script that’s as bad as you say this is. In fact, he should have put up a red flag. He should have told McCarthy to stick to novels, or he should have attempted to educate McCarthy on the art of cinematic storytelling.

    • All very true Reasonable, as mentioned previously in my review comments it seems Scott may have muddled with McCarthy’s script a little bit which could of adulterated it in a bad way but I think it’s true that McCarthy gave no heed to cinematic scriptwriting.

      • You have to master a medium before you can start to subvert its rules, or worse, completely disregard them. I have nothing but respect for him, but sounds like McCarthy—a revolutionary novelist—was trying to create a revolutionary screenplay right out of the gate, instead of first getting a handle on the form.

  2. Agree with you completely on this man. McCarthy’s writing was god-awful here, and I honestly hope he doesn’t write another screenplay again. I understand his novels are incredible and every film he’s had adapted from them seem to work just fine.

    But at the same time I think it’s a bit more complicated with The Counselor. In my review, I pointed out (more like referenced something else I read elsewhere) that Ridley Scott could very well still be in mourning over the loss of his brother Tony, which could explain some of the dourness of the atmosphere. The complete disregard for human life. His ultimate point is to show us how miserable death is and the unfairness of it all. It’s just too much in one film, I think. And it’s a shame because this could have been a real contender for the Oscars

    • To lose a close relative is terrible under any circumstances, but to lose a brother because he committed suicide? I don’t know what that does to a person. Scott has made some underwhelming films in the past decade or so, but nothing approaching a disaster of this magnitude. I haven’t seen it, but it doesn’t sound merely bad; it sounds ugly in the extreme. You might be right about Scott; he could very well still be in a state of grief.
      I want the man to go out on a high note. I am rooting for him to make one last great film. I’m actually looking forward to his follow-up to Prometheus, which I was able to enjoy despite its considerable (mostly script-based) flaws. It was effectively nightmarish and visually amazing, and I think that if the next one actually has a decent screenplay it could build on Prometheus and really turn out to be something special. Or, at least, that is my hope.

      • Absolutely, I can’t wait to get to Prometheus, it looks really neat. And while I understand it isn’t perfect either, sounds a heck of a lot better than The Counselor.

        I hope Mr. Scott gets well soon, I can’t imagine how incredibly tough a period this must be for him and his family

      • Or, rather. . ..it must be even tougher not focusing on death as an end-product of your film here, when it’s looming so large in your real life right now. The Counselor is just a bit too pessimistic of the world I’m afraid.

    • Hamish – I know mate Scott messed with McCarthys screenplay but for basing this post on what I saw on screen with McCarthy credited as the sole screenwriter blame has to go to him for coming up with such a messy and incoherent story with characters that allow no affection from the audience.

      • When a screenplay has sold for more than US$250K, the writer cannot take his/her name off the film, no matter how poorly the film turns out, or how little the film resembles the screenplay.

        That said, I have had the “pleasure” of reading a script which had won a prestigious screenwriting festival, and was bought by a well-known mini-studio who were considering giving it to my friend to direct… and it was an incredibly well-written screenplay… but the movie that played in my head as I read the script, was B-grade, derivative dross. So, this might have been what happened with this script.

        On the other hand, you have Ridley Scott, who no-one in the business would dare say no to anymore, because he has made some of the best movies ever made. That said, when you consider his recent track record… and when you watch “Dangerous Days: the making of Bladerunner” and you understand just how much input and control Ridley has in his films, that good or bad, a Ridley Scott film, is just that, a Ridley Scott film.

      • True Hamish, perhaps Scott really runs his film as a one man show? What are your thoughts on the finished film though?

        I found dialogue that was clearly McCarthy just clunked on screen and his usual metaphorical language fell flat on screen.

  3. I haven’t seen it so I can’t really point fingers one way or another, but I was highly skeptical when hearing Cormac wrote it. He’s a very fine novelist once you get past the fact he’s too lazy or selfish (not sure which) to include quotation marks and other basic things like that, but doing a screenplay is just different. James Franco wants to create a film of Blood Meridian, I’m clueless how that could be done in two or even three hours.

    • I really hope whoever takes on Blood can do it justice it’s one of those books that displays such imagery in your mind as you read it, a chance to be a classic if done right.

      • My ideal would be Jim Jarmusch as the director, Jesse Plemons (Todd from Breaking Bad) as the kid, Ron Perlman as Judge Holden, and a couple good top notch character actors for the rest of the cast.

      • Oh great call on Plemons. My thoughts would be Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the Judge, with a support cast including character actors like Clifton Collins Jr, Ben Foster and somewhere there needs to be some Daniel Day Lewis.

  4. Jacob brings up a good point. Sometimes a God-awful movie has more going for it than a middle-of-the-road film that takes no chances. If a movie is REALLY bad, it often means that the director aimed for the stars. He might have failed miserably, but at least he tried something. Could you tell if the makers of The Counsellor were trying to do something? Or is the film like Nothing But Trouble—totally irredeemable? If it’s the former, I might decide to check it out. If it’s just a disturbing, mean-spirited mess, not so much.

    • I think they did aim for the stars here and failed reasonable, it felt like a finished product that had no reason to exist. I reckon the aim was list in making of the film.

  5. The trailer looked promising, but I knew that Diaz wouldn’t deliver. Haven’t seen it yet, but this opinion has piqued my interest 🙂 McCarthy is one of my faves too, all the more that Nicholas Sparks doesn’t like his work, so I’m kinda bummed. Oh well.

  6. Pingback: Filmophilia | Film Review: The Counselor·

  7. I agree that this film failed, but I disagree about a lot of the critique. First I think Javier Bardem’s wardrobe was amazing. Both he and Diaz had these bizarre, but obviously top-shelf clothes, that were perfect for their characters. These aren’t real people we want to date, they are characters we need to understand, and I thought his wardrobe served that well. It’s funny because that shirt in the image you shared, kind of blew my mind. The moment he came on screen in that shirt with half its tail untucked, as a production designer, I was thinking, “where the f— did they find that great shirt?” So great minds differ.

    I actually enjoyed the weird obtuse structure and dialogue. The narrative was left completely secondary to the dark and cynical themes, which were at the heart of the problem for me. I hated every character in this film, and I despise the idea that this world and these people actually exist. I can say the same about a film like The Departed (which I think, despite its acclaim, failed for similar reasons) but at least it did not take itself as seriously, and gave the audience some comic relief to give us a break from the pit they threw us into.

    So as a viewing experience, despite the great production values and performance (you have to credit Scott with those) I just left the theater feeling as filthy as these despicable characters. I enjoyed the strange philosophical dialogue, so don’t really want to blame McCarthy, tho he certainly loves to sh-t on the world.

    I do think that chalking this up to Scott processing his grief is likely right on. But I still think that the failure rests solidly on his shoulders, and his sh-tting on his audience, was not really an appropriate way to grieve. I love most of Ridleys work, but with this and Prometheus, I wonder if he’s lost contact with the necessity of narrative logic, and pandering to audience experience. We go to the movies to understand our lots and to be, in some way edified and/or entertained. To just piss and moan about hell on earth does neither.

  8. Pingback: Film Review: The Counselor | We Love Movies. Hard.·

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