Critic, essayist and screenwriter F.X. Feeney, renowned for his brilliant perceptions and occasional big-hearted essays on behalf of disputed films that less engaged critics should (he feels) make more of an effort to get, has riffed on Ridley Scott and Cormac McCarthy‘s The Counselor. The piece appears in a N.Y. Times comments section following Manohla Dargis‘s positive 10.24 review.

The Counselor is a superb movie, and how gratifying to find myself in agreement with my pal Ms. Dargis! For I’m otherwise puzzled that so many of my fellow critics are dumping on it. One colleague even cracked, ‘Too many words and not enough plot.’

“The words are there like music — it’s a spoken musical. The submerged ‘plot’, the intricate maze of treacheries happening offstage [that prey] upon the nameless hero, are not being denied us as story points. They’re being held at horizon distance so that we can concentrate, as [Michael Fassbender‘s Counselor] must, on the tragic recognition forced upon him by choices he made well before we came upon him.

“There are a lot of other movies that give us the beat-to-beat tick-tock on drug deals, cartels and treacheries, and disappearances in Juarez. Those are thrillers. Happy endings are part of their contract with us, and [are] essentially false. [Counselor screenwriter] Cormac McCarthy is not out to thrill but take us (and himself) to a place both inevitable and surprising because Fate is in play and will not be cheated. Ridley Scott has the courage to get in the game with him.

“The result is unrestrained in its bleakness yet extremely satisfying, like hearing Shostakovich conducted by Bruno Walter.

All the Pretty Horses, No Country for Old Men and The Road were fine, sincere adaptations of McCarthy’s novels, but each fell short of the originals. Here we have a work written for the screen, and it’s the best film yet to have [McCarthy’s] name on it.

“When [the screening I attended] was over another hostile colleague, surprised at my admiration, asked me: “Okay, you liked it so much [but] what the hell was the point of that picture?”

“It is this: The Counselor has made a bad choice for which he must pay. Given our recent history, his predicament is a meditation on the fate of America.

“He assumes [that] because he meant well, all will turn out well. How can it? That becomes both a moral yet highly suspenseful question, expressed from McCarthy’s depths and realized with lucid energy by Scott.”

I had to laugh at a subsequent comment that responded to Feeney’s thoughts, to wit: “You mean Scott has made a film about yuppie professional types who live off other people’s money, and [that] the audience for this film is the self-same class who get to the enjoy this film as punishment? Or something like that?”