By Drew Taylor | The Playlist February 28, 2014 at 5:21PM
When "The Counselor" was released last fall, it was an intriguing conundrum: how had Ridley Scott, the one-time bad boy auteur behind "Blade Runner" and "Alien," taken the first original screenplay by legendary American author Cormac McCarthy (of "No Country for Old Men" and "The Road" fame), and turned in something so vacant and bizarre? We puzzled over this at the time, both in our review and in comparing the final version to the lengthier, filthier, more philosophically-minded screenplay. With the recent release of the Blu-ray, not only do we get a more satisfying cut of the movie, but its accompanying commentary provides a shockingly honest and insightful glimpse into who Scott is as a filmmaker today.
As Scott acknowledges in the commentary, the running time of "The Counselor" has ballooned from just shy of two hours to nearly two-and-a-half hours. That's quite a difference. The transformative power of the additional content even dwarfs the extra footage that was reinstated into "Kingdom of Heaven," his Crusades-era epic that was barely coherent in its theatrical form (it's easier to understand what's going on in the director's cut, but it's also still kind of boring). We won't go into the details of what's been altered, fucked with, and embellished, since our detailed script comparison does a good job of illustrating was missing. But this new cut is sexier, nastier, and infinitely more satisfying, turning "The Counselor," formerly just a curio for Scott die-hards, into essential canon.
But what might be even more remarkable than the longer cut itself is the commentary track that serves as its delicious garnish. Entitled "The Truth of the Situation: Making 'The Counselor,'" it's a combination commentary and documentary, with the movie pausing seamlessly to make way for smaller documentaries that cover all aspects of the film's production, from the casting of the characters to the animal trainers responsible for corralling the movie's fearsome cheetahs. The whole shebang runs nearly four hours long, and is some pretty engaging stuff.
If you haven't seen the film yet, then what follows could probably considered spoiler material and should be treated as such. This is really a highlight reel of what makes the commentary so special, just in case you don't have four hours to kill on a movie that was largely dismissed upon its release.
The Nature of the Director's Cut
One of the things that Scott brings up time and time again is the notion of a "director's cut" and the importance it has. He is known for being a huge proponent of whatever home video format is en vogue, becoming one of the first filmmakers to really get behind both DVD and Blu-ray, seemingly for the limitless possibilities when it comes to versions of the movie that can be presented (and at the highest possible quality, at that). Even as home-watching is shifting to iTunes rentals and Netflix, Scott concocts elaborate packages for films like "Prometheus," delving into every aspect of his creative journey. With this commentary, though, he seems to be second-guessing the theatrical cut as an entity, talking time and time again about how much more interesting and fulfilling this cut is.
Minutes into the commentary, he starts: "When you're in the editing room, the dangerous thing is that it becomes like telling a joke again and again and again. Eventually the joke starts to not be funny. So you have to be careful that you're not throwing the baby out with the bath water." If there's a case for a director throwing the baby out with the bathwater, it's the theatrical cut of "The Counselor."
Later on, he ponders this some more. You get the sense that as he's re-watching the movie for the purposes of recording the commentary, this cut is growing on him. "The damage is that you get flippant and think this is slow, that is slow." He pauses and then concludes: "When it's not really slow."
The Sex Scene, aka "The Most Luscious Pussy In All Of Christendom"
The director's cut of "The Counselor" is noticeably more vibrant and more alive. There's a sequence towards the end of the film where a major character gets murdered in the most grotesque fashion imaginable, and this version plays that sequence even longer, allowing us to luxuriate in the bloody decadence. (It makes the space abortion in "Prometheus" seem like a walk around the park.) But while he claims that "good taste" made him temper that moment, there was something guiding the pruning of another sequence: Fox executive's prudishness.
One of the opening sequences in the movie is a sex scene between The Counselor, played by Michael Fassbender, and his adoring girlfriend, played by Penelope Cruz. In the theatrical cut, this sequence was neither here nor there; it was kind of dirty but never perverse enough to get any kind of jolt out of. Here, almost all of the sexiness that was on the page has made it back into the movie. Something that seemed inconceivable before.
Scott notes that the sequence has no additional nudity from the released version. "What was sexy was what was said," the director says on the commentary track. Still: it was shocked Fox executives when he screened early versions. "I could hear gasps in the room when I first screened it at Fox," Scott said. "It's like… Come on guys, when was the last time you had sex?" On one of the pop-up documentaries, McCarthy (who was on set almost every day during production) echoes that same sentiment: "You get the sense that people who make Hollywood movies have never had sex." Scott later continues, on the sequence's seemingly-offensive nature (especially when compared to the racy stuff that's on cable): "There were some that were offended by it so I had to trim some of it out. It's extraordinary how prudish some people are. I couldn't understand it. It's passing beyond prudish–it's ridiculous, especially when on television you can see something so tacky, cheesy, stupefying awful, and the kids are watching it."
Towards the end of the sequence, Scott rightfully concludes: "This scene is much longer and in its length is quite outrageous in its dialogue. It's very successful."