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The 5 Most WTF Moments From 'The Counselor'

Features
by The Playlist Staff
October 28, 2013 2:05 PM
33 Comments
  • |
Brad Pitt, The Counselor

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.

The Counselor

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.

The Counselor

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

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33 Comments

  • 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)

    http://variety.com/2013/film/columns/the-counselor-rearview-ridley-scott-1200770790/

    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.

    MALKINA Hi.

    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?

    MALKINA No.

    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
    baptized?
    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
    hearing.

    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
    that?

    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.
    Expand

    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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