Disc Jockey: Give Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Counselor’ another chance

Javier Bardem (with funny hair) and Cameron Diaz (with leopard spot tats) star in the Cormac McCarthy movie "The Counselor." Credit: Kerry Brown
Javier Bardem (with funny hair) and Cameron Diaz (with leopard spot tats) star in the Cormac McCarthy movie “The Counselor.”
Credit: Kerry Brown

‘The Counselor’: Unrated Extended Cut
20th Century Fox
$39.95

Like his “Blade Runner” over 30 years ago, Ridley Scott’s latest, “The Counselor,” was a bomb and critical whipping post. (Although “Blade Runner” didn’t make as many worst-of lists.) The version on home video isn’t, like “Blade Runner” was, labeled a “director’s cut.” It’s an “extended cut,” and one that doesn’t radically alter the content. Written by Cormac McCarthy, it’s still a series of erudite conversations — on the nature of diamonds, on accepting death, on male fears of women — with a drug underworld plot that seems to only make half sense.

Even with 20 minutes more, we still don’t know what exactly befalls the titular lawyer (Michael Fassbender) and others, including his fiancee (Penelope Cruz), his business associate (Javier Bardem), Bardem’s bisexual (and possibly duplicitous) minx (Cameron Diaz) and a cucumber cool middle man (Brad Pitt). Given slightly more air, this version simply flows better. (It also features more dirty talk in the film’s opening, including Fassbender referring to Cruz’s naughty bits as “the most luscious … in all of Christendom.” Cormac McCarthy, you devil.)

What’s really in “The Counselor”’s favor is a second chance. This movie is, to put it mildly, not for everyone, especially because it’s the purest distillation of McCarthy’s novels to film. Visited after seeing the Coen brothers’ film of it, “No Country for Old Men” reads like watching the film. (It’s one of the most faithful lit adaptations ever.) But McCarthy greats like “The Road,” “Child of God” and “Blood Meridian” — which Scott has toyed with adapting, but said would be beyond NC-17 in its unbridled carnage — are about language. Their prose is meant to be savored, even as it puts forth arguably the bleakest worldview in literature.

“The Counselor” gets both those things. Knowing that there’s no way to translate his prose to images, McCarthy frontloads language. He then uses endless, sometimes tangent-heavy dialogue to put you in the characters’ shoes: Like Fassbender and company, you’re distracted by the talk to notice what’s really going on. In turn, one underestimates how badly they will be destroyed by the drug trade with which they’ve foolishly gotten involved.

We don’t need to know the specifics of why they’re going to be punished beyond their wildest dreams. This is McCarthy’s reductio ad absurdum of the materialist beliefs running through his work: that we think we can outsmart death, but we can’t. Nature is, as they say, red in tooth and claw, and it’s disinterested in what we think, what we’ve done, all that we’ve accomplished. It’s an embodiment of this passage from “No Country For Old Men,” after Anton Chigurh has killed day tripper Carson Wells:

Chigurh shot him in the face. Everything that Wells had ever known or thought or loved drained slowly down the wall behind him. His mother’s face, his First Communion, women he had known. The faces of men as they died on their knees before him. The body of a child dead in a roadside ravine in another country.

“The Counselor” embodies the starkness of this passage even better than the “No Country For Old Men” film. And so it features half-sketched characters who remain alien to us, a plot that’s beyond their and our comprehensions, a Darwinian struggle for pure survival that only favors the strong and only briefly mourns the lost and, as in life, no real satisfaction. The bad win out because they played long cons. But they’ll get theirs, because we all do. “The Counselor” won’t gain many fans, but those who come around will lap it up as one of the darkest movies a major studio ever thought would be a big hit. It’s satisfyingly unsatisfying.

Also out

‘Foreign Correspondent’ Alfred Hitchcock emigrated to America to a most atypical production for him: the revered Best Picture winner “Rebecca.” His second was more his usual speed, with Joel McCrea’s newspaper editor foiling an espionage plot in the early days of WWII. Yes, journos can be heroes, too.

‘Darkman’ Liam Neeson is an action star in his 60s as opposed to in his 30s, when he was headlining — behind much makeup — Sam Raimi’s giddy twist on the superhero pic. And there’s more: Frances McDormand as The Girl. 1990 was an amazing time.

‘Afternoon Delight’ The great Kathryn Hahn gives a great performance in this dramedy about a housewife who finds herself housing a stripper (Juno Temple). It gets very evil in the back stretch, but Hahn remains a keeper.

‘Game of Thrones’: The Complete Third Season You dorks. This season has the delightful “Blood Wedding” massacre.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

Brooklyn man charged in roommate's stabbing death

A Brooklyn man accused of violently stabbing his roommate to death on Monday is in police custody and faces murder charges.

International

Dinosaurs could have survived asteroid strike

It turns out there is a good and a bad time for the planet to be hit by a meteor, and dinosaurs were just unlucky.…

National

OkCupid admits to Facebook-style experimenting on customers

By Sarah McBrideSAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - OkCupid, a top U.S. matchmaking website, intentionally mismatched users to test its technology, the IAC/InterActive Corp service said on…

Local

MTA fares still increasing 4 percent in newly…

The agency said the 4 percent increases, previously announced in December, will remain steady even as the MTA deals with increasing labor costs.

Movies

Interview: Brendan Gleeson on the way 'Calvary' depicts…

Brendan Gleeson talks about how his new film "Calvary" began over drinks and how his character here is the opposite of the lead in "The Guard."

Movies

'Get on Up' producer Mick Jagger on the…

Mick Jagger, a producer on the James Brown biopic "Get on Up," talks about the time had to tell the singer some bad news and his favorite JB record.

Television

'Glee' star Lea Michele to appear on 'Sons…

"Glee" star Lea Michele has been confirmed as a guest star in the final season of "Sons of Anarchy."

Television

TV watch list, Monday, July 28: 'The Bachelorette'…

See Andi Dorfman make her big choice on tonight's 'Bachelorette' finale.

MLB

Angelo Cataldi: Ryan Howard deserves better from Phillies

Just last week, Ryan Howard endured the embarrassment of a benching that was inevitable, and yet still shocking.

NFL

Larry Donnell has inside track in Giants tight…

Little-known Larry Donnell of Grambling State currently has the inside track, as the second-year player has received the bulk of the first-team reps.

NFL

Computer to Jets: Start Michael Vick over Geno…

Jets general manager John Idzik says the choice of who starts between second-year quarterback Geno Smith and veteran Michael Vick will be a “Jets decision.”

MLB

Yankees looking to trade for Josh Willingham: Report

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported Sunday the Yankees are interested in Twins outfielder Josh Willingham.

Travel

Glasgow: Hey, hey, the gangs aren't here

This European city has done a good job getting rid of its more violent residents and revitalizing with artists.

Education

Babson College tops list of best colleges for…

Money magazine has just released its inaugural list of "The Best Colleges for Your Money" -- and the answers have surprised many. Babson College, which…

Education

NYC teens learn how to develop apps during…

Through a program sponsored by CampInteractive, the high schoolers designed their own community-focused apps.

Tech

The Ministry of Silly Walks app is both…

Monty Python have dug into their back catalogue for cash-ins once more, but with the Ministry of Silly Walks app, they've made something that's fun too.