review the counselor

The Counselor is one of the most cinematic and uncinematic movies of the year. It’s the former because director Ridley Scott used  the production to craft a beautifully uncomfortable atmosphere, truly evoking the themes, ideas, and visuals of scribe Cormac McCarthy‘s writing. Yet, it’s uncinematic because, to no one’s surprise, McCarthy loves to do things his own way. The movie doesn’t give you conventional exposition, backstory, or whatever else audiences might expect from easily digestible and normative filmmaking. The lead, The Counselor (Michael Fassbender), isn’t given a name. Why? Because he doesn’t need one.

But the film isn’t vague – it tells you everything you need to know.

The script itself is a slightly different matter. The people who loathed The Counselor, of which there are many, based on its D Cinema Score and a current rating of 37% on Rotten Tomatoes, would have torn the screen apart if  Scott used everything that McCarthy provided for him on the page. The script is just that good. Scott’s final product contains both minor and major deviations in McCarthy’s script (which reads more as a novel than a traditional screenplay), and following are ten of the most notable changes.

10. The Biker

In the film, Ruth’s (Rosie Perez) son is nothing more than a plot point. He doesn’t require much screen time, but in McCarthy’s script, he has an incredibly funny scene buying dog food, a purchase which we later saw in the movie. Immediately before The Counselor’s first meeting with Reiner (Javier Bardem), the Biker has an exchange with a fellow grocery store customer over his dog food diet. When he’s hungry, he only eats dog food. The Biker lost 27 pounds in 30 days, but wound up in the hospital. When the woman asked if he had a reaction to the dog food, he responds:

“Oh no Mam. It wasnt anything like that. I was sitting in the street licking my balls and a car hit me. You take care now. You hear?”

You can’t ask for a better punchline than that.

9. The Silent Fight

When we see the four men get in a shootout over the drug-filled septic tank trunk, McCarthy originally accomplished it with silence. There was no, “Those aren’t cops,” as if you couldn’t figure it out for yourself. It’s a four and a half page set piece. Unlike most scripts, McCarthy left no stone unturned. When something happens, he let’s it all unfold.

8. The Woman

When we see The Counselor ask that random woman in the public plaza if he can use her phone in the film, that’s it. She’s clearly taken with The Counselor’s (or Fassbender’s) dashing looks, but him using her phone has no consequence. In the script, however, it does. After The Counselor leaves the scene, we briefly follow the woman, her poodle, and her red umbrella. Later she’s shown, taken and presumably killed by a group of men. Her dog is left alone in the rain.

7. Toby Kebbel and His Belly

Sadly, Toby Kebbel (Control) isn’t so much a face that you went “why bother?” when it came to his casting, but there was one nice touch missing from his redundant scene. We already know The Counselor has a few quirks to him, like having to know about the sex lives of others, so this scene doesn’t work narratively or from a character standpoint. Anyway, this tidbit involved Tony (Kebbel) lifting up his shirt and moving the skin of his stomach up and down a few times, representing “a girn running the hurdles.” Read into that however you please.

6. The Cheetahs

While we only see the cheetahs immediately after Reiner’s death in the film, the script takes us further along on their journey the cheetahs. After one of them checks on Reiner to see if he’s alive, we later see the two of them walking around a middle class neighborhood pool where kids were playing. With the combination of children, cheetahs, and Cormac McCarthy, you’d expect a vicious outcome, but it ended on a strangely moving note. The father watching the kids closes his eyes and reachs his hand out to the cheetahs, in an act of faith. Would a real person act this way? Hell no. Would a Cormac McCarthy character act out pure symbolism? Of course they would.

5. More Malkina and Laura

Malkina (Cameron Diaz) and Laura (Penelope Cruz) only have one scene together in the film. How they know each other and the nature of their relationship goes unexplained — and it’s not like we need that exposition — but McCarthy’s script gave them another scene together to show they are somewhat on friendly terms. They’re not besties, but it’s a “nice” McCarthy moment between the two. Laura calls Malkina to tell her about a troubling dream she had which involved Malkina, but how she can’t remember it.

Discussing a dream is fitting for The Counselor, because the whole movie is one long nightmare.

4. Reiner Had Another Story Worth Seeing

In McCarthy’s script, Reiner had another story to share that’s almost as good as Malkina hooking up with his car. Reiner tells The Counselor a story about him and his friends taking a young kid out to a club. That kid’s English wasn’t up to snuff, so Reiner and his pals told him that to ask a girl to dance in English, you say, “I want to eat your pussy.” So, this “elegant looking” kid told this woman: “I vant to ate you poossy.” This woman spotted Reiner and his friends laughing in the background, so to spite them, she took the kid out to her car and “fucked his brains out.” Later that night a buddy of Reiner’s used that line to less successful results…

3. Westray’s Death 

Here’s a scene which was tweaked for the better. In his film, Ridley Scott has you feel each one of Westray’s (Brad Pitt) steps towards death. When Pitt’s smooth talker finally get the axe, there’s no hilarious, “Fuck you! Fuck you!” He leaves silent and fast. But Scott does stay true to what McCarthy wrote, expanding on the “annoyance” McCarthy described Westray’s demeanor as. Even funnier is a bit where the paramedics arrive on the scene. When they lift up Westray’s body, his head falls to the ground.

2. We Almost Didn’t See “The Scene”

Even the people who dislike The Counselor at least acknowledge the pure cinematic beauty of Malkina getting it on with Reiner’s car. It’s unlike anything ever put onscreen and, not only that, it shows us what kind of a character Malkina really is: someone without limits. But, foolishly, McCarthy’s script only includes Reiner describing that lovely night out to The Counselor. Bardem alone could sell that story, but it wouldn’t be the same without actually seeing the act itself.

This is why Ridley Scott is considered a visionary.

1. Malkina: Future Mother of the Year

The final conversation between Malkina and her “escort” differs as well. All three of the main players — The Counselor, Reiner, and Westray — are more overtly discussed in the script, so the scene doesn’t only read as Malkina expressing the film’s moral to a stranger. It still is exactly that, but it has more impact, thanks to McCarthy’s sense of humor remaining intact and a funny little detail: Malkina is pregnant. It’s not Reiner’s baby, who had a vasectomy, but possibly Westray’s. She said her boy will have the best possible father: a “dead father.” We knew Reiner and Westray shared women, and Westray wouldn’t confirm or deny if Malkina was one of them.

That kid is going to have one interesting childhood.


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