The UnPopular Opinion: The Counselor

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!


Ridley Scott's THE MARTIAN opened this past weekend to both critical acclaim and great box office results. Over the course of his career, Scott has put an indelible stamp on Hollywood with everything from mainstream fare liek GLADIATOR and HANNIBAL to artistically unique films like BLADE RUNNER and LEGEND. Whenever Scott has tried to do something different as a filmmaker, it has always intrigued movie fans even if it didn't make an impact financially. One of Scott's biggest flops, THE COUNSELOR, is an underappreciated masterpiece of movie-making thanks to Scott's visual eye and the magnificent screenplay by the legendary author Cormac McCarthy.

Made for only $25 million, Scott's lowest budgeted film since THELMA & LOUISE, THE COUNSELOR is unlike any other film in the director's filmography and stands as his most distinct achievement. Many criticized the film as being slow, disjointed, and boring, but that misses the point of the film entirely. THE COUNSELOR is the creation of one of the greatest living American writers with a visual palette painted by one of our most esteemed filmmakers. The issue may have been that many were expecting to see something closer to McCarthy's THE ROAD or NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, but THE COUNSELOR is a much different type of story. Others may have expected to see a psychological thriller closer to Scott's BODY OF LIES or BLACK RAIN, but this is not that film.

THE COUNSELOR must be watched much like a stage play filmed for the big screen. Like the works of Shakespeare, the entirety of the action within THE COUNSELOR is told via dialogue. Almost every scene is set in a single room or location and comprised of the primary actors discussing an ephemeral or existential quandary. For the first thirty minutes of the film, you do not even get an idea of the film's plot but rather hints of the nefarious dealings and situations that the titular character is proxy to. We meet Michael Fassbender as the nameless Counselor, Penelope Cruz as his girlfriend Laura, Javier Bardem as his friend and drug trafficker Reiner, and Cameron Diaz as Reiner's mysterious girlfriend Malkina. All four of these primary characters echo traditional stage characters which enhances the Shakespearean themes of the film. At it's core, THE COUNSELOR is a story of greed and what the desire for wealth at any cost can do to people.

Like a stage production, scenes do not flow into one another but instead end with the next one picking up abruptly and continuing the tale. THE COUNSELOR is not a film you can just turn on and let play in the background. To understand what the characters are doing and why requires attention to the words each character is conveying and the underlaying symbolism that permeates the entire movie. You have the foreshadowing of Rainer discussing execution by bolito which is the fate that befalls Brad Pitt's Westray. You have Javier Bardem retell The Counselor about Cameron Diaz's Malkina having sex with the windshield of his car. You also have the opening sex scene of Fassbender opening up Penelope Cruz's sheltered Laura for some oral sex as it is overlapped with the packaging and shipping of cocaine from Mexico. Every one of these scenes can feel disjointed but revisiting the film you will find countless layers that each scene adds further into the bleak message of THE COUNSELOR.

Multiple characters in the film are not even given names but are instead addressed by their character like Richard Cabral as The Young Man, Natalie Dormer as The Blonde, Dean Norris as The Buyer, and Sam Spruell as The Wireman. These naming conventions are both in keeping with Cormac McCarthy's writing style and the common format of stage plays. Hiring someone like Ridley Scott for a stage adaptation seems odd but Scott has always been something of a chameleon when it comes to his directing style. Where his latest film, THE MARTIAN, is presented fairly conventionally, Scott uses the strictures of his film being set in single rooms by focusing on angles, staging, and composition. The result is a beautiful and claustrophic feel that enhances the thriller aspects of the story.

THE COUNSELOR is a violent film and a very sexy one as well. The shocking disconnect between the scenes of wordplay and the nearly dialogue free scenes of death and dismeberment would exist in the same film followed by scenes of sexual wordplay and very graphic death narrative, I would have never thought it was the same film. THE COUNSELOR is a stage play that could never be staged because of the sprawling visual needs of the story. Yes, much of the film takes place in interiors, but the shift from the United States to Mexico to Amsterdam needs the bigger scope of a theatrical presentation to add that needed boost to make this story more than just people talking at each other.

The end results of THE COUNSELOR is a film that deserves much more acclaim than it has received. While Michael Fassbender's performance serves as more of a conduit for the viewer to enter the world of the film, the rest of the cast are at their best. Javier Bardem is just nuts enough to make this a worthy companion to his Oscar-winning role from NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. Penelope Cruz is sexy in a very understated and demure way while Cameron Diaz is both frightening and sexy at the same time. This is a movie with a cast so big that many expected a different result than what Ridley Scott gave us but that by no means discounts how solid of a film this is. THE COUNSELOR is a nihilistic morality play in the guise of a sexy thriller and definitely a movie you should check out.

Oh, and if you have any suggestions for The UnPopular Opinion I’m always happy to hear them. You can send along an email to [email protected], spell it out below, slap it up on my wall in Movie Fan Central, or send me a private message via Movie Fan Central. Provide me with as many movie suggestions as you like, with any reasoning you'd care to share, and if I agree then you may one day see it featured in this very column!


About the Author

5913 Articles Published

Alex Maidy has been a editor, columnist, and critic since 2012. A Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic and a member of Chicago Indie Critics, Alex has been's primary TV critic and ran columns including Top Ten and The UnPopular Opinion. When not riling up fans with his hot takes, Alex is an avid reader and aspiring novelist.