Take no notice of The Counselor‘s 34% Rotten Tomatoes rating. It simply means that a lot of reviewers found the movie unlikable or unpleasant. Or they found it too scary to handle — they had to push it away in order to go on living their lives. But shame on those reviewers who are calling it a bad or poorly made film, or that “everyone’s speech is awash in gaudy psycho-blather and Yoda-like observations,” which is blind bullshit. Or that “you can’t believe a word of it.” Yes, you can. You can believe every word. You simply have to understand and accept that The Counselor is expressing a cold and clear-eyed view of the Mexican cartel drug business with a very blunt and eloquent voice. It is an undistilled visit to McCarthyland, which is to say the bleak moralistic realm of novelist and (in this instance) first-time screenwriter Cormac McCarthy. You can say “wow, that’s one cold and cruel place” and that’s fine, but you cannot call The Counselor a bad or negligible or sloppily made film. I hereby declare these viewpoints anathema and excommunicate.
Consider instead the praise from Toronto Star critic Peter Howell and St. Louis Post-Dispatch critic Joe Williams. Or the two hosannahs I posted yesterday. Or consider the words of N.Y. Times critic Manohla Dargis, who calls Ridley Scott‘s film “terrifying” and “implacable.”
“Mr. Scott’s seriousness isn’t always well served by the scripts he films,” she writes, “but in Mr. McCarthy he has found a partner with convictions about good and evil rather than canned formula. The movie’s title may make cruel sense — the Counselor is a man who himself takes no counsel — but a truer encapsulation of its worldview is [Jean-Paul Sartre‘s] No Exit. Mr. Scott manages all these swiftly spinning parts with impeccable control and a lucid visual style. The story may be initially elusive, but there’s a clarity, solidity and stillness (the camera moves but doesn’t tremble) to his images that augment the narrative’s gravity and inexorable momentum. The beauty of the landscapes is about all that feels coherent in an often unrecognizable, unsettling world.”
You can tell that The Counselor really riled Variety‘s Peter Debruge. His review ends with the following passage: “The industry is too often intimidated by intellect, and this project bears all the signs of perfectly smart, talented people putting their faith in a rotten piece of material simply because it bore McCarthy’s name. When the dust settles, heads are gonna roll, and it won’t be a pretty sight.”
Whose heads are going to roll exactly? Debruge isn’t content to just post a pan. He wants the guilty punished. He arterial blood spurting out of severed heads.