Casual academic in the School of Humanities and Communications Arts, Western Sydney University
Tom Lee does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
The Counselor is a collaboration between one of the last century’s literary greats, novelist Cormac McCarthy, and one of the filmmakers who has helped define contemporary, mainstream American cinema, director Ridley Scott.
And it provides an opportunity to witness the tension between the demands and preferences of literary writing and those of writing for the screen.
It looks like an animated, R-rated Louis Vuitton ad. Or, in the words of critic Mark Hughes, writing for Forbes:
an episode of Miami Vice where everyone is earnestly quoting philosophy and merely pretending they know what’s going on when in fact none of it makes any real sense.
And yet, unlike the manipulative moralising evident in Paul Haggis’ 2004 film Crash, The Counselor will offer no cathartic affirmation of principles in line with humanist sentiments.
A man’s world in ruins
The Counselor is a film of many flaws.
It wouldn’t pass the Bechdel test as there is no scene that features two women in a dialogue that does not involve men. The film is the product of a particularly masculinised view of the world and at times explicitly and comically depicts male efforts to caricature femininity.
It’s true that the last “man” standing in The Counselor is a woman, a character who is colder, smarter and more assured than the fallible male characters – but it is a masculinised version of femininity that ends up winning out.
The patriarchal leanings of the film are even more explicit in the original screenplay, which features a scene with the pregnant female lead saying that she will murder her child if it is a girl.
Perhaps the most important thing to contemplate when confronted with McCarthy’s male chauvinism, is that his vision of a world suitable only for men is a world in ruins.
McCarthy on screen
The Counselor provides an opportunity to witness what happens when a writer of some power wrests the mechanisms of cinema from screenwriters who are generally taught to make their craft undetectable.