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The 5 Most WTF Moments From 'The Counselor'

by The Playlist Staff
October 28, 2013 2:05 PM
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5 Most WTF Moments From 'The Counselor'

Acidic, cynical, perhaps having a twisted laugh on those who think they’re in control of their own fate, Ridley Scott’s “The Counselor” is an incredibly moribund and bleak poem about greed, chance, and the dark side of man. It’s like a merciless and blistering riff on the adage, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.” And coming from the mind of celebrated author Cormac McCarthy (“The Road,” “Blood Meridian”), known for grim and unforgiving stories of fate, morality and the dark shadows of human nature, what did you expect? It’s classic McCarthy chiseled down to the bloody bone (and note this isn’t his first script: McCarthy wrote a screenplay for 1977’s “The Gardener's Son”—watch it in full here).

Starring Michael Fassbender, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt and Penelope Cruz, "The Counselor" is also one of the darkest and weirdest movies a studio has released this year. “A cologne ad for the scent of despair,” L.A. Times writer Mark Olson wrote on Twitter much to our amusement. As you might expect, McCarthy’s screenplay is replete with his characteristic machismo tough guys, symbolically weighty women, and philosophical asides, in which a character searching for the perfect diamond for his fiancée turns into an epic conversation about cosmic perfection. Days later we can’t stop thinking about it or talking about it—even if most of agree that it’s not an entirely successful film (read our review here). It’s a movie that on some levels is opaque in its narrative—McCarthy & Scott are simply not interested in plot mechanics or the who, what and where of the past—and, on other levels, is incredibly nakedly simple, acting as a cruel riff on chance via the Faustian pact. No deal with the devil ends well.

It’s a testament to the singular, witchy power of "The Counselor" that such thematic depth can even be extracted from a movie that often times flirts with outright boring the audience, largely thanks to dialogue that become circular and dense. In another universe, this film could easily be put on as a play, since almost every scene consists of two people talking, usually with one or both of them comfortably sitting down. Maybe this only adds to its strangeness, considering that we know McCarthy, through his tersely cinematic novels like “The Road” and “Blood Meridian,” is capable of wide-open vistas and pulse-quickening suspense set pieces.

So maybe you’ve seen the movie and want to revisit its epic oddness, or more likely, given the movie’s weak opening, mixed reviews and disastrous CinemaScore, you’ve stayed away, and want to instead be an armchair commentator on all things “The Counselor.” Either way, we present, with all the subtlety of Javier Bardem’s electro-shock hair, the five most WTF moments from “The Counselor.” It goes without saying that spoilers follow. Quite frankly, this list could easily stretch to 10, and probably 20 with repeated viewings. It’s that insane.

The Counselor

1. The Catfish Scene Is Spectacular, The Rest Of The Sex Scenes Not So Much
Before the movie had even hit theaters, the Cameron-Diaz-having-sex-with-a-car scene was already building a fair share of buzz in the blogosphere. And while the scene is every bit as outrageous as it sounds, it’s also one of the rare moments where Cormac McCarthy’s concoction of eroticism, bleak fatalism and pitch black humor comes together perfectly, resulting in one of the best scenes of the film. As told by Reiner (with Javier Bardem managing the tone of tale perfectly), Malkina’s windshield masturbation technique is both a display of her raw sexual energy and a confirmation that she’s dangerously unpredictable. “You think she knew what kind of effect this might have on a guy?” the Counselor asks. “Jesus, Counselor, are you kidding? She knows everything,” is Reiner’s reply. This is sex as power and currency, and there isn’t a doubt that Malkina’s wildly sexual nature masks a lethal cunning.

But elsewhere, McCarthy’s script and Ridley Scott’s direction serve as prime examples of how sex scenes can be rendered flaccid, and the the makers of “Fifty Shades Of Grey” would be advised to pay close attention. The film opens with pillow talk between the Counselor and his fiancée Laura, and like most pillow talk, if you’re not saying yourself, there is already a distance between the words and the act that’s difficult to bridge dramatically, let alone authentically sexily. And it’s a task made harder when that pillow talk is as dry as it is (“Tell me where you want me touch you”) and shot as hilariously, 2-AM-on-Cinemax way Scott does, with his camera literally roving beneath the shades. And a later sequence, in which the Counselor literally asks aloud, “Is this phone sex?” only underscores that if you have to ask… well, it’s probably not that good. One should note, both these two “sex scenes” are dirtier in the script and feel more sensual on the page, but they don’t really come off that way onscreen and perhaps that’s because they’re kind of neutered and not as raw.

Natalie Dormer, The Counselor

“Hey-Its-That Guy!” Cameos
While the basic premise of “The Counselor” centers on one man’s spiritual collapse when he gets mixed up in the drug trade, the larger ambitions of the film aspire to paint a portrait of an enterprise where there are no moral considerations, only consequences. And to achieve that, the story presents a world of secondary, often fleeting characters, played by a sea of familiar faces. They sometimes have little bearing on the narrative, thematically, such as Edgar Ramirez’s priest who refuses to listen to Malkina’s confession (as we’ll get into more below). At other times, random scenes—such as the sequence with Dean Norris and John Leguizamo that could be a “Breaking Bad” deleted scene—only serve to underscore what we know, that drug dealers generally aren’t very nice. But even for the rare cameo that does add some texture, such as Toby Kebbell’s slimy ex-client of The Counselor’s, there’s another like Natalie Dormer’s mysterious The Blonde, that is merely there to serve little more than the machinations of the plot. And from Bruno Ganz’s diamond dealer to Goran Visnjic’s shady partner of Malkina’s, the movie doesn’t go long without a character actor or respected name showing their face in the movie. It’s just too bad that much of it serves very little purpose.

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  • truthslinger | July 19, 2014 7:56 AMReply

    Ok I got alot out of this movie, that maybe I'm just making up in my head or maybe I actually saw alot that this writer didn't pick up on. The first sex scene and the "phone sex" was awkward on purpose. It was to convey their innocence and them first dabbling into something more naughty. They didn't know what they were doing. It was hammered in that the counselor didn't know what all could go wrong, he didn't do drugs, it was his first time having phone sex and the first time he was doing one of these drug deals. Malkina on the other hand was the freaking devil. SO much so that she drove a priest away practically in fear, made men cower in their sexuality compared to her, and stopped everyone when her name was brought up (Brads character for instance). They mentioned several times that she knew everything and she did. They also made the distinction of her and the innocence of the counselor and his fiance at the pool when she said how strange their innocent lives were. Also when she asks Rainer about him being in trouble, he says he doesn't want to talk about it, then she says shes starving. At that point shes talking about eating him metaphorically because at the end of the movie shes talking about men of weakness and prey and the cheetahs, and then says shes starving again. Somehow they made the drug cartel seem tame compared to her and all her schemes that ended with her being the reason everyone lost in the worst way possible simply to get all the money. Pitts worst scenario envisioned was to die, and he did. Bardems we don't know because they shot him in the act of capturing him and were pissed when he was killed that way. Thats why they kicked him a few times. The counselor's worst fate was to lose his fiance and live on without her, as he mentioned that life being in bed with you, everything else is just waiting. And he was left waiting and forever corrupted by his venturing into a darker world. Well thats what I got from it, anyways. Dont know if im right or not on meaning of all of it.

  • Flower | July 1, 2014 7:51 PMReply

    El Paso can't have any fancy restaurants? C'mon now. Just because it's a border town next to one of the scariest cities in the work doesn't mean it's not a great city.

  • Raton | May 27, 2014 1:33 PMReply

    I watched the movie after reading half the book and tossing it somewhere when I recognized McCarthy's mental illness once again surfacing (I already paid my dues reading The Road and Blood Meridian) in too long winded monologues by diamond dealers, Reiner, Brad Pitt and that painfully to the point of embarrassing long diatribe that went nowhere by the Cartel drug lord; a profound dialog coming from a people who just recently scavenged out an existence from live donkey shows in Boy's Town and who bet on Mexican rubber masked wrestling. That movie was on the par of the contents of the septic truck that rumbled across the Chihuahuan Desert spraying leaks.
    I give the movie a solid S rating for it S#it..

  • Sanker from India | July 27, 2014 4:56 AM

    You read the book? There was no book. It was only a McCarthy screenplay, idiot.

  • Michael | February 25, 2014 12:43 PMReply

    Long a fan of both Ridley Scott and Michael Fassbender, I looked forward to The Counselor. My first viewing was of the unrated 2:18 min version. My jaw dropped two minutes into it, and wasn't picked up off the floor until well after it was over. What was that mess??

    After an overnight to recover, I realized that there might have been a decent film in there somewhere, but it was buried in so much pointless dialogue that went nowhere. By rough estimate, it was about 40 minutes too long. So, after a week to let the mess I had seen "digest", I set off to edit a tighter, more dramatic version. The first thing to go were all the extended philosophical meandering scenes or any scene which did not advance the plot: the confessional, the Ferrari sex, the diamond, the unfinished bar, the biker's incomprehensible dog food scene, the counselor's nocturnal walk through the parade, the scene at the polo match, the cheetah walking through the back yard, etc. To my mind, the opening dinner/proposal scene fully established their love for each other, as well as the gift of the diamond. Finally, I combined a few short scenes to make the narrative more cohesive, in particular the biker's dessert cuts. Finally, I changed the closing credit music from the hard-driving guitar stuff to a more elegiac orchestral score. In my cut, the film both opens and closes on Cameron Diaz. She is the huntress, and though she may not have the most screen time, she is, to me, the star of the story. Others may have their human vulnerabilities and foibles, but she is the full-blown psychopath.

    Is this cut for everyone? Maybe not. But I do believe it is a cut which would have been better received by the public at large than what they were given.

  • Nicky hopper | February 22, 2014 11:51 AMReply

    Great movie
    Watched it a few times

    To all you " critics"

    can you do a better job ?

  • Spare Me | February 15, 2014 5:26 AMReply

    Terrible movie is terrible.

  • Nimsy Numpty | February 13, 2014 11:37 PMReply

    Also I was kinda annoyed with all the characters spewing prophetic rants. Again I loved the Hollywood moments like the head decapitation scenes but I just dont get it...the cartel decapitated Laura and sends a DVD but no interest with what happened to the drugs they just wanna take the piss outta the counselor and teach him a lesson knowing at this point he had nothing to do with the missing drugs. Someone please make sense out of this to me enlighten me.

  • Nimsy Numpty | February 13, 2014 10:35 PMReply

    There's too many flaws in the script. Westray says they don't believe in coincidence but that's just too much of a coincidence . But considering the meaning of coincidence that's gotta be the grandest of all. The coincidence gets even more skewed with the Malkina situation. I kinda think only people who didn't grow up around that sort of lifestyle get a kick out of movies like this. I mean sure I enjoyed the Hollywood moments & loved Cameron Diaz acting for the 1st time in my life. Maybe I'll read the book unless it was just a screenplay. Cheers

  • martin z | February 7, 2014 2:52 AMReply

    "Instead, it’s one of the many dangling chads that hang loose in “The Counselor,” like Brad Pitt’s feathery hair."
    im sorry but if you think every scene must have a clear purpose then you clearly dont know how to appreciate art.

  • Robert | November 6, 2013 4:46 PMReply

    We DO NOT yet know that Cameron Diaz' character is a psychopathic, predatory, car lover when she goes into the confessional. The "catfish" scene on the car windshield comes AFTER the confession. Both are very funny scenes in this pitch black comedy. It is true, however, that each scene in the film informs those that precede and follow them. Very good movie...may become great upon re-watching.

  • Brian | November 4, 2013 5:21 PMReply

    The restaurant where Fassbender proposes is called "Reiner's Cafe" or something similar if I remember correctly. That explains the presence of the cheetah's as a motif there because of the connection to Bardem/Diaz.

  • Meredith | November 4, 2013 9:43 PM

    I caught that too. In fact, a lot of the places they visit have "Reiner" in the title.

  • KcM | October 30, 2013 3:53 PMReply

    Question for those who've read the script: Was there any explanation as to how Diaz and Dorner knew Pitt had gone to London and was holed up at that particular hotel?

  • Brown | October 29, 2013 7:23 AMReply

    I went through the post you have shared over here. The movie 'The Counselor' seems to be not that much interesting as if expected. I watched the trailer of the movie

  • Mark | October 28, 2013 8:36 PMReply

    Hey haters, the great Scott Foundas also loves The Counselor (and Ridley)

    Cult classic on the road.

  • Canyon Lover | October 28, 2013 8:50 PM

    And? Foundas also loved the piece of sh*t that was The Canyons.

  • yer | October 28, 2013 7:14 PMReply

    This film will be mentioned in the top ten of the decade lists when the time comes around just like how The New World was featured in every other one despite having a tepid reception upon release.

  • Michele | October 28, 2013 6:23 PMReply

    And so the reevaluation begins--already. Yes, The Counselor is haunting, beautiful, evocative, and a damned good movie. Critics who routinely give high marks to unambitious lesser movies were unwilling to take this film on its own terms, and seemed to engage in their own gleeful mass wicker-man sort of sacrifice. I suspect that lots of critics will wish they could hide their reviews on this one. Thank you for this article. This is the best movie I've seen in at least five years, hands down.

  • SAM GERARD | October 28, 2013 6:13 PMReply

    Cameron Diaz will be nominated and maybe win
    for ridley scotts thriller

    'The Counselor' script page 48/116

    Church, interior.
    Five women are standing in line
    along the rear wall of the church waiting to go to confession.
    The women are both Hispanic and anglo.
    At the front of the line is Malkina,
    dressed casually but fashionably.
    The woman in the confessional pushes back the curtain
    and exits with her head bowed
    and Malkina enters the confessional booth.


    PRIEST Hi?

    MALKINA Oh. Bless me father for I have sinned.

    PRIEST How long has it been since your last confession?

    MALKINA I’ve never been before. This is my first.

    PRIEST Are you Catholic?


    PRIEST Why are you here?

    MALKINA I wanted to confess my sins.

    PRIEST Have you ever done this before?

    MALKINA No. I told you.

    PRIEST I couldn’t give you absolution. Even if you did. Confess. You
    couldn’t be forgiven.

    MALKINA I know. I just wanted to tell someone what I’d done and I thought
    why not go to a professional.

    PRIEST Have you thought about taking instructions?

    MALKINA That’s not something I do very well.

    PRIEST I mean in order to become a Catholic. You take what are called
    instructions. You learn about the faith. What it means. Then you
    could confess and you would be forgiven for your sins.

    MALKINA How do you know?

    PRIEST Excuse me?

    MALKINA What if they’re unforgivable?

    PRIEST Nothing is unforgivable.

    MALKINA Yeah? What’s the worst thing anyone ever told you?

    PRIEST I wouldn’t be at liberty to tell you a thing like that. The priest can
    never reveal anything from the confessional.

    MALKINA That bad, huh? Well, I haven’t killed anybody. But I’ve been
    pretty bad. I think. I don’t really know because I’m not all that
    sure about the rules.

    PRIEST Where are you from?

    MALKINA Buenos Aires. You?

    PRIEST Excuse me?

    MALKINA Where are you from?

    PRIEST Phoenix. Arizona.

    MALKINA I know where Phoenix is. Do you ever go out on dates with girls?

    PRIEST No. Of course not.

    MALKINA Boys?

    PRIEST No. What did you want to tell me.

    MALKINA What if I’d done something really bad? What if I’d killed
    somebody. Would you call the police?
    PRIEST No.

    MALKINA I killed somebody.

    PRIEST You said that you hadn’t. Look. I‘m sorry, but we have people here
    waiting to go to confession.

    MALKINA They can wait. I did. You want to throw me out because I’m not a
    Catholic but what if I’d said I was one? I mean, you don’t carry a
    card around do you?

    PRIEST Who did you talk to about this?

    MALKINA Why did I talk to somebody?

    PRIEST You said Bless me father.

    MALKINA I asked a friend. But she didn’t know I was going to do it. I asked
    her if non-Catholics could go to confession but she said no you couldn’t.

    PRIEST But you didn’t believe her.

    MALKINA No, I believed her. But I’m a curious person. I just waited to see
    what would happen.

    PRIEST So are we done here then?

    MALKINA I haven’t told you my sins yet.

    PRIEST I don’t want to hear your sins. There would be no point. Are you
    MALKINA I don’t know. It’s possible.

    PRIEST Your parents never told you?

    MALKINA I never knew my parents. Look, you don’t have to do the
    forgiveness thing. All you would have to do is listen. To the sins.
    You could even pretend I was lying. If you didn’t like what you

    PRIEST Why would you lie?

    MALKINA I wouldn’t. But you could think that I was. Maybe I wanted to be
    wicked but I didn’t have the stones for it. So I would just make up stuff. Women tell you about sex, don’t they?

    PRIEST I can’t talk about that.

    MALKINA Yes. But every woman who comes to confess tells you that she is
    an adulterer or a fornicator or something of else why would she be
    here? The only women who don’t come are the ones who aren’t
    doing anything. So you must get an unusual picture of women.
    You must think that they are just having sex all the time. That
    that’s all they do. Anyway I think that women might make up sexy things to tell you just to make you crazy. Do you think that they do

    PRIEST No. I don’t.

    MALKINA But you don’t know, Suppose that I told you that I had sex with my
    sister. Would you believe that?

    PRIEST You really have to go now.

    MALKINA Because I did. We did it every night. As soon as the lights were out
    we were at it. We’d be falling asleep at our desks the next day at
    school. They didn’t know what was wrong with us. But that’s not
    the worst thing. Do you want to hear the worst thing? You might
    say that it’s not really about sex but it is about sex. It’s always about sex. Wait. Where are you going?
    The priest pushes back the curtain and exits the confessional.
    Malkina, kneeling, turns and pushes aside the curtain. The priest is
    hurrying up the aisle, blessing himself.

    MALKINA (Standing up and calling to the priest.) Wait! I wasn’t finished!

    The women waiting to go to the confession are confused, horrified.

    One of them blesses herself

  • Caleb | October 28, 2013 6:11 PMReply

    Playlist has been much kinder to other "not entirely successful films", I could not and still cannot after seeing this movie understand the avalanche of vitriol and frustration spewed on this very special movie. It's nice to see there hasn't yet been a dismissive consensus reached on it by this particular site. Brad Pitt gave my favourite performance of his in years and the whole thing played out like John Grisham take for poetic psychopaths. Not a lot of those around. Hating a movie does not make it a bad one. I feel Only God Forgives got a similar raw deal earlier this year.

  • James | October 28, 2013 5:42 PMReply

    Great piece! This is a fascinating film, despite its flaws and weirdness,a nd I'm glad to see you guys devote some space to it.

    Just one note, in the first sentence I think you mean "morbid". "Moribund" means near death, inactive or obsolete.

  • Alan B | October 28, 2013 3:45 PMReply

    Is there anything scarier and douchier than me?

  • Fred Topel | October 30, 2013 8:52 AM

    But that's impossible. How could anyone do that? Also, I like to lick my own ass.

  • Alan B | October 30, 2013 8:50 AM

    I have strange tendencies, deal with it.

  • Fred Topel | October 30, 2013 6:26 AM

    ha ha. Oh Alan. Your self-loathing is amazing.

  • cirkusfolk | October 28, 2013 3:24 PMReply

    How about the scene near the end that has the counselor pleading with the main drug cartel guy? This scene annoyed me to no end. It was one thing for Javier Bardem's character in No Country For Old Men to be a philosophical fate pondering guru on top of his serial killer character, but now we are supposed to believe drug dealers are too? So does every Mexican criminal head honcho follow the same laws of action and consequence? I just don't buy it. I realize it's Macarthys voice coming out, but it shouldn't be coming out of that character, or out of most of the characters in the movie. I bought that type of talk from Pitts but not from Bardem's. To me this film had the exact same themes as No Country but wasn't nearly as good on any level.

  • cirkusfolk | October 28, 2013 3:39 PM

    In fact The Counselor doesn't just repeat the themes of No Country but uses its characters too. Fassbender is the "good" guy like Josh Brolin, whose one little mistake gets him in over his head and gets his love one killed as well as himself more than likely. Brad Pitt is playing Woody Harrelson here who has played the game for awhile and knows the true nature of who he is dealing with. Oh and who also sports a cowboy hat and gets killed. And of course Cameron Diaz is the evil force per se, who wins in the end much like Javier BArdem in No Country.

  • Ellen | October 28, 2013 2:49 PMReply

    The restaurant where the counselor proposes to Laura is one of Reiner's coverup businesses- it's called Reiner's grille. The cheetah hanging with the pianist is either Raul or Silvia. I thought the use of these beautiful animals was masterfully done, given their obvious symbolic representation of Malkina's predatory behavior and skills.

  • uncleDiss | October 28, 2013 2:48 PMReply

    I might have been too stoned to appreciate everything about this movie, but I did notice that the restaurant "The Counselor" proposes to his lady at is called REINERS, which obviously leads me to believe this was Bardem's establishment... Therefore, the cheetah hanging out at that joint is completely understandable...

  • Mark | October 28, 2013 2:33 PMReply

    Yes, this will be a future CULT CLASSIC. This heated debates about the movie... simply awesome.

    Interesting tweets:

    Jeff Sneider ‏@TheInSneider 23m
    .@DevinCF on THE COUNSELOR: "You probably won’t like The Counselor, but I think you should see it. Not every film wants to be liked."

    edgarwright ‏@edgarwright 21h
    Almost all 70's movies would have had terrible Cinemascores.

    edgarwright ‏@edgarwright 21h
    'The Counselor' is Ridley Scott's 'Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia'. If you submit to its death trip, you might have a good time. I did.

  • lookfar | October 28, 2013 2:17 PMReply

    Its certainly a bizarre piece of movie making. It's seriously a bitch to explain the catfish scene to people and get them to understand just how great it is.

  • tim | May 4, 2014 10:29 PM

    any1 know the ringtone from the counselors phone

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