The Telegraphed Brad Pitt “Bolito” Scene
Early in “The Counselor,” Reiner (Bardem) is having one of the loopy, weirdly metaphysical conversations that the movie is littered with (and will long be remembered for), describing to The Counselor (Fassbender) how the bad guys kill people these days (you can see the beginning of the scene here). There’s a device, he describes, that has a small mechanical motor whose only job is to retract a metallic line made of some “unholy alloy.” It’s called a "bolito," its motor clicks and whirs until that line is fully brought in. These very bad people, who the Counselor and Reiner are doing business with, they slip this line over your head, in a loop, and turn the motor on. There’s no way of shutting it down once it’s started, and the wire just cuts through your neck. When The Counselor asks if the person gets decapitated, Reiner shrugs and says “sometimes.” What’s more likely to happen is that the silvery noose cuts through major arteries in your neck, spraying blood all over the place in an epic crescendo of gore (he doesn’t say that last part but you get the idea). Two thoughts will probably run through your head while listening to Reiner’s long-winded ramble: one, the cow gun thingee from “No Country for Old Men” (utilized by Bardem) was way cooler, and two, gee I wonder who’s going to get this device slung around their neck? Well, if you guessed Brad Pitt, you were right! As cowboy-ish middleman Westray, Pitt almost makes it out unscathed but, at the last minute, in London no less, he falls victim to the device. He fights hard but eventually the wire cuts into his neck, letting loose a gory fountain of blood all over a tony London sidewalk. It’s truly disgusting and shocking, although coming from Scott, who let a alien burrow out of John Hurt’s chest in “Alien” (and more recently performed a harrowing space abortion in “Prometheus”), it’s not all that surprising. The last, wonderful WTF touch to the scene is, of course, a shot lingering on Pitt’s severed fingers, which he had wedged underneath the loop before it had fully tightened. Carnage candy.
So Many Cheetahs
One of the very first scenes in “The Counselor,” delivered, like the rest of the movie, free of context and with little bearing on the actual narrative, shows Reiner (Bardem) and Malkina (Cameron Diaz going for an Oscar or a Razzie with her go for broke vamping) watching as their pet cheetahs chase down rabbits on a dusty Texas plain (the kind McCarthy is very, very fond of). Later, we see Malkina after she’s come out of the swimming pool, with Scott lovingly fixating on the tattoo that runs down her shoulder and down her back: cheetah spots. The symbolism is so clear that it’s practically double underlined, especially as the movie drags on and Malkina’s motivations are made apparent. Even her name is derived from an ancient term for an “evil-looking female cat” (arcane! bookish!). But the pet cheetahs (names: Raoul and Silvia) aren’t the only jungle cats in “The Counselor.” More bizarrely, coming across as even more of a non sequitur, is the moment when the titular Counselor (Fassbender) takes his girlfriend Laura (Cruz) out on a date to propose. It’s a fancy dinner place, at least as fancy as you can get in El Paso, Texas, and there’s even a guy playing the piano. But sitting next to him, on some kind of stool or perhaps an elevated platform, is a cheetah. Just calmly sitting, pushing its ancient bloodlust down into a deep dark place and cordially making eye contact with the high-paying clientele of this restaurant. It got to the point where we wondered if pet cheetahs in Texas were a thing (we did the research; they are not). But maybe in McCarthyland they are.
That Bizarre Confession Scene
In a scene between the venomous Malkina (Diaz) and the more demure Laura (Cruz), they get to talking about Laura’s impending marriage to The Counselor (Fassbender). (All this after Malkina somewhat dismissively evaluates Laura’s ring.) Malkina asks about it being in a church, and then continues to pry more openly about Laura’s religion, asking if she reveals sexual things in the confession booth. Laura tries to laugh it off, but Malkina keeps pushing, until things become so uncomfortable that the scene kind of shuts down. Later, for no apparent reason, the flashy Malkina goes into a church and slides into the confession booth. Keep in mind that this is after we’ve learned that she has fucked a car and pretty much done every sexual act under the hot Texas sun. Maybe, perhaps, this sequence inside the confessional will give us some insight into her character and we’ll get to learn a little bit more about what makes the woman with the cheetah-dotted tattoo tick. But no. Instead, she just toys with the priest (played, thanklessly, by Edgar Ramirez), asking if he listens to women divulge sexual indiscretions and then offering to reveal some of her own (hopefully not the car-fucking stuff though). Again: this scene has no dramatic payoff. After a few minutes of watching Ramirez squirm and try to shut down Malkina’s attempts at vulgarity, he just fidgets out of the confessional and the scene abruptly ends. What, exactly the point of the sequence is, dramatically, is unclear since we already know that she’s a man-eating psychopath who fucks cars, and there is no payoff in a narrative sense because the priest, church, and confession is never brought up or referenced again. Instead, it’s one of the many dangling chads that hang loose in “The Counselor,” like Brad Pitt’s feathery hair.
Of course, this is just the tip of “The Counselor” weirdness iceberg (blood-splattered, of course). With repeated viewings, which we fully intend to do once the movie briskly makes its way to Blu-ray, maybe the purposeful aloofness will make way for general profundity, and the many threads of plot will somehow reconcile themselves. But we kind of doubt it. Maybe that will be the everlasting charm of “The Counselor,” though: that it was a slickly produced, all-star Hollywood thriller written by an A-list literary star and released by a major studio that still managed to be confounding in its strangeness and inability to conform to convention. Like the movie’s many cheetahs, it is lean, rare, and exotic. For better or worse. -- Kevin Jagernauth & Drew Taylor with additional thoughts by Rodrigo Perez