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By Chris Rebholz
Feb 27, 2014 12:27 PM EST

The Counselor Blu-ray Review

The Counselor doesn't divulge its secrets easily, and in fact this is one film that virtually requires (at least) a second viewing.
The Counselor Blu-ray Review
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Cormac McCarthy's name may only be instantly recognizable to the more literary minded, or at least to those who really pay attention to film credits as they whisk by, but there's little doubt that the acclaimed Pulitzer Prize winning author has had a hand in several well regarded film triumphs. Novels by McCarthy have provided source material for such widely disparate movies as The Road and, perhaps most famously, No Country for Old Men. Many of McCarthy's works have a sort of bleak outlook, with weathered heroes (or anti- heroes, as the case may be) who have paid their dues but also are still dealing with either external crises or, just as often, psychological trauma arising from past traumas and regrets. The Counselor marks McCarthy's first original screenplay, and it, like many of his novels, posits a morally ambiguous lead character whose decisions ultimately spill out into a number of unforeseen ripples, affecting both those around him as well as himself. Also like many of McCarthy's novels, The Counselor is filled with poetic language, beautiful little touches which are at once wildly lyrical but also perfectly attuned to whatever character is uttering them. This is not some kind of haphazard thriller cobbled together out of preexisting parts and foisted off on an unsuspecting public as Art, but instead a rather ruminative piece, rather like The American in some ways, that upends several expected tropes in what might more appropriately be seen as a character study than as any easily pigeonholed genre film.

While the self-destructive tendencies that are often part and parcel of film noir are completely prevalent in The Counselor, in this case there really isn't a traditional femme fatale, despite the presence of Cameron Diaz as a machinating witch, unless one wants to personify Lady Greed. The film's titular character is indeed only ever called Counselor (Michael Fassbender), an allusion to his trade as a high priced attorney for a certain criminal class. The film treads the treacherous territory between El Paso, Texas and Cuidad Juarez, Mexico, a wide open land that is nonetheless home to a secretive drug trade into which The Counselor willingly gets sucked. Not to be too crass, but a different sort of sucking opens the film, as we find The Counselor and his girlfriend Laura (Penélope Cruz) indulging in some carnal pleasures where The Counselor insists that she "encourage" him by talking dirty to him. It's an odd scene, one that is tonally at odds with the rest of the film, but it at least introduces these characters in a fairly unforgettable way and indicates that they are in the throes of a passionate relationship, something that will ultimately add some emotional heft much later in the film when things start to go horribly, horribly awry.

Two other equally memorable characters are also introduced in the film's opening moments, Reiner (Javier Bardem), a kind of slimy hipster crime lord, and his haughty but playful girlfriend Malkina (Cameron Diaz). These two evidently have a pet ocelot or leopard which they take out on the plains to let scavenge for prey, but which seems equally at home lounging around their luxurious pool. After The Counselor takes a brief sojourn to Amsterdam to buy an engagement ring for Laura, he attends a party at Reiner's home where Reiner seems to alternately entice and then discourage The Counselor's interest in some kind of drug deal which the two have obviously been discussing previously.

Though Reiner has obviously cautioned The Counselor that there are risks involved, The Counselor nonetheless moves ahead with a meeting with Westray (Brad Pitt), at which point some plot points start falling into place, and it's clear that there's a huge drug deal in the offing, putting some scenes of a surreptitious truck transport and a solo motorcycle rider seen earlier in the film into context. At about the same time, The Counselor is called on by an inmate named Ruth (Rosie Perez) to get her son, nicknamed The Green Hornet, out of jail after he's picked up for speeding. The Green Hornet turns out to be the motorcycle rider that has been glimpsed in a few previous cutaways. As this tangled web is being woven, on the domestic front The Counselor has proposed to Laura, and she has accepted, with some prophetic words being spoken between them.

It's at this point that The Counselor becomes almost willfully opaque (some might argue willfully more opaque), introducing a few more supporting characters and devolving into a cascading series of subterfuges and shady dealings. Suffice it to say the proposed drug deal doesn't come off as planned, and an increasingly desperate state of affairs ensues, once which soon, sucks The Counselor into its gaping maw. The final third or so of the film plays out like an ineluctable tragedy, one that's perhaps foreseeable but is no less devastating once all the shattered shards are scattered in front of various characters.

Is The Counselor a masterpiece? No. Is it uneven and at times too convoluted for its own good? Yes. That still doesn't mean that this film isn't a unique vision from a madly verbose author and a visually astute director. The film is just stuffed full of incredibly memorable dialogue. Yes, some of it is completely pretentious monologue that seems to have little connection to the already tenuous plot threads, but when we have a detached character like Malkina accused of being cold, and she responds that "I think truth has no temperature", it's obvious McCarthy is attempting something grander here than mere run of the mill film dialogue.

The Counselor meanders a bit in its middle act and then probably extends its final act for a bit too long, and in fact some may actually find the shorter theatrical cut of the film better than Ridley's extended cut, since it streamlines some of the dialogue and action, if only minimally. There are also a few dangling plot threads left hanging, including some of Malkina's motivations and connections. But The Counselor is a riveting experience overall, and while, yes, probably not Scott's best film, certainly worth of being a guilty pleasure.
The Counselor is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.40:1. The image here is almost flawlessly pristine and sharp looking. If you listen to Scott's commentary, you might be surprised to hear how often locations jump from continent to continent, even though the film is supposedly based in a rather narrow swath between Texas and Mexico, and all of those segues are handled seamlessly here. From the first moments of The Counselor, when a motorcycle races across an open desert and the soundtrack is filled with a nice panning effect, it's obvious that the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is going to have some excellently immersive channelization. That continues through several set pieces in the film, whether they be the party at Reiner's house or, much later, a really frightening shootout on a deserted desert highway. The film has some very vigorous LFE courtesy of both engines and gunfire at several key points in the film. Dialogue is always very cleanly presented and the odd but effective score also nicely populates the surrounds.

Special Features
  • Theatrical and Unrated Extended Cut versions of the film (on separate Blu-ray discs with different supplementary material).
  • Viral Pieces: Uncut is a series of three short films featuring Laura, The Counselor, and Reiner and Malkina. A couple of high profile guest star turns (which won't be spoiled here) highlight these odd but enjoyable shorts. This supplement is found on the disc containing the Theatrical Cut.
  • Theatrical Trailers Found on the Theatrical Cut disc.
  • TV Spots
  • Truth of the Situation: Making The Counselor This astoundingly effective supplement, found on the Unrated Extended Cut disc, is a hybrid combining a fantastic Ridley Scott commentary with 13 featurettes which are accessed via seamless branching while the film plays. Amazingly insightful and very thorough, this exhaustive overview should put the lie to anyone who thinks just about everything in this film wasn't done with an intentional consciousness.
The Counselor doesn't divulge its secrets easily, and in fact this is one film that virtually requires (at least) a second viewing. Filled with some low key but very effective performances (including a perhaps surprisingly nasty turn by the usually sweet Diaz), and boasting some admittedly flowery but unforgettable dialogue by McCarthy, the film is exciting and disturbing in about equal measure. It's not a typical genre film by any stretch of the imagination, but in my book that's a major compliment. The presentation here is virtually flawless and the three and a half hour hybrid commentary-featurette supplement is outstanding.
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MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 111 minutes
Distributed By: 20th Century Fox

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About Chris Rebholz

FlickDirect, Chris  Rebholz

When Chris was but a wee lad growing up in the slums of suburban New Jersey, he happened to rent a little movie called Tron. Then his head exploded. It was at the moment that he realized that he loved movies, and since then Chris has made it a habit of renting movies, going to the movies, discussing his favorite movies, and anything else in between when it comes to that genre. Read more reviews and content by .

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