The Counselor

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The Counselor
The Counselor Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Ridley Scott
Written by Cormac McCarthy
Produced by
Cinematography Dariusz Wolski
Edited by Pietro Scalia
Music by Daniel Pemberton
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release dates
  • October 3, 2013 (2013-10-03)(Leicester Square)
  • October 25, 2013 (2013-10-25)(United States)
  • November 15, 2013 (2013-11-15)(United Kingdom)
Running time
117 minutes [2]
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
Budget$25 million [3]
Box office$71 million [4]

The Counselor (known as The Counsellor in countries that use British English) is a 2013 crime thriller film directed by Ridley Scott and written by Cormac McCarthy. It stars Michael Fassbender as the eponymous Counselor as well as Penélope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem and Brad Pitt. The film deals with themes such as greed, mortality, love, and trust in the context of the Mexican drug trade. The extremely violent and bloodthirsty activities of drug cartels are depicted as the Counselor, a high-level lawyer, gets involved in a drug deal around the troubled Ciudad Juarez, Mexico/Texas border area.


The Counselor was chosen as the closing film at the 2013 Morelia Film Festival and also played the Cork Film Festival. The film was theatrically released on October 25, 2013 and is dedicated to Scott's brother, Tony Scott, who died in 2012. It received mixed reviews and grossed $71 million worldwide against a budget of $25 million.


In Mexico, cocaine is packaged in barrels and concealed in a sewage truck, and driven across the border to the United States where it's stored at a sewage treatment plant.

A lawyer from Texas who is known only as "The Counselor" goes to Amsterdam to meet with a diamond dealer to purchase an engagement ring for his girlfriend, Laura. Returning to the United States, The Counselor attends a party back in Texas thrown by drug dealer Reiner and his girlfriend Malkina. He discusses an upcoming drug deal he is going in on with Reiner, which would be The Counselor's first. Their discussion ends with Reiner describing a device called "the bolito" which after being pulled around one’s neck, self-constricts and decapitates the victim. Afterwards, at a dinner with Laura, The Counselor proposes marriage to her and she accepts.

The Counselor meets with Westray, a business associate of Reiner's, to deliver his investment for the upcoming drug deal. Westray informs the Counselor of the deal's 4000% return rate, but cautions the Counselor about becoming involved, saying that Mexican cartels are merciless. Despite this, the Counselor remains outwardly confident and unconcerned. Following the conversation with Westray, The Counselor visits a prison inmate named Ruth, a court-appointed client of his who is on trial for murder. Ruth explains that her son is a biker who was recently arrested for speeding and cannot post bail. She asks the Counselor for help and he agrees to bail Ruth's son out for her as a favor.

Malkina senses an opportunity to undermine the Counselor's upcoming deal and to profit for herself. To that end, she employs "the Wireman" to help her steal the drugs. After discovering that the biker is working for the cartels and has plans to pick up a truck with a drug shipment, the Wireman executes a plan to steal the component needed to start the truck by decapitating the biker with a wire stretched across an empty desert road. With the component in his possession, the Wireman steals the truck containing the cocaine.

Learning of the theft, Westray meets with the Counselor to notify him of the biker's true identity, a valued drug cartel member known as "the Green Hornet". He explains that the biker is now dead, with the cocaine also being stolen, bleakly intoning the Counselor's culpability in the eyes of the cartel. Westray says he is leaving town immediately and suggests the Counselor do the same. Westray explains that the cartel's ruthlessness extends to creating "snuff films" where kidnapping victims are filmed being decapitated. The Counselor makes an urgent call to Laura, arranging to meet her in another state, where he will explain the situation to her.

While transporting the drugs, the Wireman is pulled over by two cartel members pretending to be police officers. A gunfight ensues, resulting in the death of the Wireman, his accomplice, one of the cartel members, and an innocent bystander. The surviving cartel member repossesses the truck with the drugs and delivers it to its final destination. Reiner is accidentally killed by cartel members while they are attempting to capture him. The cartel then kidnaps Laura.

In a last-ditch effort, the Counselor contacts Jefe, a high-ranking cartel member, for suggestions on what to do next and to plead to spare Laura's life. Jefe begins speaking philosophically, citing the life and poetry of Antonio Machado to underline his advice. Jefe darkly and mordantly advises the Counselor to resign himself to his fate that was created by the choices he made long beforehand. He explains that despite the Counselor's willingness to exchange his life for Laura's, it is too late.

The Counselor remains in Mexico, defeated and in mourning. A package is slipped under the door of his hotel room and in it he finds a DVD with "Hola!" written on it. Realizing that the disc likely contains a snuff film of Laura sent by the cartel, he breaks down. In an unnamed location, Laura's headless body is dumped into a landfill.

Malkina's failed effort to steal the drugs does not deter her. She tracks Westray to London, where she hires a woman to seduce him and steal his bank codes. She then has accomplices steal Westray's laptop, and he is killed with the "bolito" device that Reiner had previously described. Malkina then meets her banker at a restaurant, coolly explaining how she wants her profits and accounts to be handled and plans to move to Hong Kong.


Literary references

In the second half of the film, Jefe recites directly from the poem Campos de Castilla by Spanish poet Antonio Machado. "Caminante, no hay camino. Se hace camino al andar," which translates in its original context as: Wanderer, there is no road; the road is made as you go along. Jefe shares this line from the poem as well as details about Machado's reflections regarding the prospects of his own life after learning of his wife being diagnosed with terminal tuberculosis. Jefe concludes by telling the Counselor, "You are the world you have created. And when you cease to exist, that world you have created will also cease to exist." [5]



On January 18, 2012, it was reported that novelist Cormac McCarthy had sold his first spec script, The Counselor, to Nick Wechsler, Steve Schwartz and Paula Mae Schwartz, who had previously produced the film adaptation of McCarthy's novel The Road . [6] On January 31, it was reported that Ridley Scott was currently considering several directorial projects, but that there was a strong possibility that The Counselor would be his next film and his follow-up to Prometheus . [7] On February 9, it was confirmed that Scott would direct. [8] Scott also became a producer. Cormac McCarthy, Mark Huffam, Michael Schaefer and Michael Costigan are executive producers.


Principal photography began on July 27, 2012 in London. The film was also shot in Spain and the United States. [9] On August 20, 2012, Scott halted production of the film due to his brother Tony's death. He canceled that week's shoot in order to travel to Los Angeles to be with his brother's family. [10] Scott returned to London to resume production on September 3. [11]

The film was dedicated to the memory of Tony Scott, and Matt Baker, the second assistant director on the film who had since died. [12]


Costume designer Janty Yates collaborated with Giorgio Armani on the film as a part of a new partnership between Armani and 20th Century Fox that also extends into retail and digital initiatives. [13] Armani was enlisted to create the wardrobes for the characters portrayed by Michael Fassbender and Penélope Cruz. [14] In addition to Armani, designer Paula Thomas also contributed to the film's wardrobe by dressing Cameron Diaz's character, Malkina, with roughly 15 different outfits. [15] "[It wasn't until] I read the script that I realized why [Scott] called upon me," said Thomas. "[Cameron's] character has a lot of elements of a Thomas Wylde (her own design label) woman. [She's] bold, edgy, modern. She's about wanting to be seen, as opposed to blending into the background." [16]

For Javier Bardem's character, Yates applied a widely colorful wardrobe that was mostly made up of pieces of Versace. [16] As for Bardem's hair, the idea was the actor's own and inspired by film producer Brian Grazer's hairdo. [17]


The film score to The Counselor was composed by Daniel Pemberton. [18] Pemberton recorded the score with a full orchestra at Abbey Road Studios in addition to integrating home-recorded guitar noises and textures. [19] "Ridley responds really well to interesting and unusual sounds," explained Pemberton on the composer-director relationship. "So as a composer who likes making unusual sounds, that's exciting. It was daunting but he was great to work with and up for experimenting. [...] He made the process a lot less scary than it should have been." [20] A soundtrack album was released digitally on October 22 and in physical forms on November 11, 2013 by Milan Records. [21]



Box office

The Counselor grossed $17 million in the United States and Canada, and $54 million in other territories, for a total of $71 million, against a production budget of $25 million. [4]

Preliminary reports had The Counselor tracking for an $8–13 million debut in North America. [23] [24] The film opened to $3.2 million in 3,336 locations on Friday and opened at #4 in the box office with just a $7.8 million over the weekend. [25]

Critical response

On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 34% based on 221 reviews, with an average rating of 5/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "The Counselor raises expectations with its talented cast and creative crew—then subverts them with a wordy and clumsy suspense thriller that's mercilessly short on suspense or thrills." [26] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 48 out of 100, based on 42 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". [27] A 2017 data analysis of Metacritic reviews by Gizmodo UK found The Counselor to be the second most critically divisive film of recent years. [28] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "D" on an A+ to F scale. [25]

Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter gave a negative review, calling it "not a very likable or gratifying film", adding that "one is left with a very bleak ending and an only slightly less depressing sense of the waste of a lot of fine talent both behind and in front of the camera." [29] Mark Kermode listed it as number two on his Ten Worst Films of 2013. [30] Los Angeles Times critic Kenneth Turan stated, "As cold, precise and soulless as the diamonds that figure briefly in its plot, The Counselor is an extremely unpleasant piece of business." [31] Peter Debruge of Variety criticized Cormac McCarthy's script, saying that his "first original script is nearly all dialogue, but it's a lousy story, ineptly constructed and rendered far too difficult to follow." [32]

Conversely, Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film four stars out of four, saying,"Director Ridley Scott and screenwriter Cormac McCarthy have fashioned a sexy, sometimes shockingly violent, literate and richly textured tale of the Shakespearean consequences of one man's irrevocable act of avarice" and called it "a bloody great time". [33] In addition, Manohla Dargis of The New York Times gave it a rave review, stating that "Mr. McCarthy appears to have never read a screenwriting manual in his life [...] That's a compliment." [34] Danny Leigh of the BBC programme Film 2013 praised the film, saying that "the real star is the script. What this film really is is a Cormac McCarthy audiobook with visuals by Ridley Scott. It's black as night, engrossing and masterful." He also acclaimed the performances, particularly Diaz's, and said, with regard to the negative reviews, "Movie history is littered with films that we all sneered at and we all laughed at and we all thought were terrible and the critics hated them and no-one went to see them, and then 40 years later they fetch up on programmes like this with everyone saying 'what a masterpiece!'" [35]

Scott Foundas, critic for Variety , wrote a defense of the film titled "Why The Counselor Is One of Ridley Scott's Best Films" in which he compared it to John Boorman's Point Blank (1967) and the screenplay to the work of David Mamet, Harold Pinter, and Quentin Tarantino. Foundas writes, "[The film] is bold and thrilling in ways that mainstream American movies rarely are, and its rejection suggests what little appetite there is for real daring at the multiplex nowadays." [36] Filmmaker Guillermo del Toro also praised the film, stating that the film is "a meditation of the illusory nature of normalcy and the devastation to come." [37]


2014 London Critics Circle Film Awards British Actor of the YearNominated Michael Fassbender
2014 MTV Movie Awards Best WTF MomentNominated Cameron Diaz

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