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The Counselor: Unrated Extended Cut (Blu-ray Review)

the counselor whysoblu coverFor film lovers, the idea of putting director Ridley Scott and author Cormac McCarthy together for a film seemed like a grand idea.  Between Scott’s abilities to provide thrilling atmosphere and a compelling depiction of process in his films and McCarthy’s skill for writing about the darkest sides of humanity, while sometimes adding a slight touch of pitch black humor, a project like The Counselor had all the potential to be a strong ensemble thriller, matching up to the Coen Brother’s take on McCarthy’s previous work, No Country For Old Men.  Unfortunately, despite all the atmospheric work done from a filmmaking standpoint, the shallow characterization and lingering story did not quite make this dark tale excel to its fullest.  Now there is a longer version of the film available on Blu-ray, which is packed with Ridley Scott-style goodness.

Film: 

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[Note: This is a review of the original, theatrical cut of The Counselor.  I watched the extended cut of the film, which I will detail a bit in the extras section, but my thoughts on the film have not changed, regardless of the cut that is watched.]

Michael Fassbender stars as the Counselor.  This is a man without a name and little other shading done to provide a backstory for him.  We can tell from the start that the Counselor has confidence in himself, tries to play things smart, is in love with his girlfriend Laura (Penelope Cruz), but is completely in over his head in regards to his latest venture.  The Counselor has recently joined forces with men involved in a shadier side of business, in an effort to make money in drug trafficking.

The Counselor is something of a Shakespearian tragedy, wrapped around the workings of a modern western, with a heavy dose of nihilistic attitudes and neo-noir sensibilities.  Just writing that sentence takes a lot out of me, but this film will no doubt take a lot out of its audience.  The first half is happy with simply lounging around the elaborate homes and locations of the various players involved, complete with everyone providing their own opinions on life and the lives they live.  Once the downfall of the hero, and everyone around him, is set in motion, the film is driven to propel the audience down this spiral with them.  The problem is how the film creates this incredibly dark universe, but populates it with mostly uninteresting characters.

I am about as big a fan of Michael Fassbender as anyone else who has been following his work can be and it is not that he is not delivering, but this story allows for very little of what he is bringing to it to make me have much empathy towards him.  If anything, the film gives its audience plenty of reasons to not enjoy this person, as he willingly involves himself in a grand scheme, despite almost every other character nudging him to pursue a more legitimate option.  Of course, as this is the work of Cormac McCarthy, things proceed down the darkest possible roads anyway and desperation is only one of the ways that most will suffer.

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Among the other characters in this film, the most enjoyable work comes from Javier Bardem, who of course created one of the ultimate film villains of all time in the form of another Cormac McCarthy character, Anton Chigurh in ‘No Country’.  While this film finds him relishing the chance to dive back into another dark, McCarthy-originated world, Bardem’s Reiner is a seedy, but charismatic entrepreneur this time around; enjoying life too much to take a step back and realize how dangerous his dealings actually are.  Aside from some of the spectacular nastiness that occurs on screen, Bardem’s scenes feature the most energy, which is not solely related to just his choice of hair style this time around.

In a film featuring a huge number of supporting players, the most unsuccessful performance comes from one of the most important ones.  Cameron Diaz’s work as Malkina, the scheming, sociopathic lover for Reiner, is a big miss.  While Diaz has successfully dabbled in over-the-top villainy before (see: Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday), she feels very much out of place here.  Diaz is an actress I tend to stand up for, as I think she can be capable in a variety of roles, but her delivery of dialogue felt consistently off throughout this film, with the sole exception of a scene set early on between her and Penelope Cruz.  This early scene has the kind of seductive spark required of her character; others have her reading off dialogue as if giving a speech to a high school public speaking class.  While the leading male characters in this film are basically blinded by arrogance, Malkina is supposed to be a woman who will break down anything in order to get more.  The intent behind scenes featuring her character are clear enough, but whatever was going on with Diaz’ direction in this film felt more off-putting than effective, which ultimately takes down the film.

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Ridley Scott’s direction is somewhat baffling.  Here is a man who is a masterful craftsman at this point, but The Counselor feels much more like one of his 80s films that are all style and atmosphere, while providing little in the way of characterization or compelling narrative to keep one entranced.  There are particular sequences in this film that I loved.  Most of them deal with process.  A scene that shows the setup and payoff of an elaborate “mouse trap” is the kind of visual storytelling that very much plays on a visceral, but structurally sound sequence (with lots of movie logic to allow for).  Another sequence depicts dangers of the drug trade and how to solve the problem of a truck riddle with bullet holes.  These are the kinds of small scenes that Scott can nail, but having the backing of a stronger narrative or characters are reasons why they play even better in his superior features.  If anything, it is McCarthy’s script that just does not play as one fitting for a movie in its current form, as opposed to possible a book.

The Counselor lacks a greater whole for these smaller scenes to latch onto.  The film provides little for the fine cinematography by Dariusz Wolski to have an overall effect on, despite the use of multiple locations around the world, with a nice handle on the vastness of the El Paso/Juarez border.  It does not find a way to make this approach to a McCarthy script more enjoyable.  No Country For Old Men may be a film that shares the same sort of darkness, but the Coen Brothers have an amazing ability to bring out a level of quirk (a word dreaded by them and many others) in their story and have the film register on a more palpable level.  The Counselor has a lot going on, but the journey to get there is played fairly straight, despite cryptic dialogue, and not all that engaging.

Video:

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Encoding:  MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution:  1080p

Aspect Ratio:  2:40:1

Clarity/Detail:  This is a Ridley Scott film.  Ridley Scott loves making good looking movies and has written about his love for the Blu-ray format.  As a result, it comes as no surprise that this film, while violent and gritty at times, is incredibly clear, with plenty of details that can be noticed throughout, from the desert landscape and locales that stem from there, to the lavish look of Bardem and Diaz’s costumes.

Depth:  The atmospheric quality of Scott’s film makes The Counselor very naturally fit as a feature with lots to take in on a scenic level, which means that depth on this Blu-ray transfer, which is terrific overall, is solid.

Black Levels:  It is a sharp-looking film, even in its darker scenes, and in the case of black levels, the film never really missteps in this area.

Color Reproduction:  Again, the desert landscapes and fancy costumes scene by some lead to a lot of instances where the colors really pop in a good way.

Flesh Tones:  Not even the harsh desert sands could take away from the quality of skin textures in this film.

Noise/Artifacts:  The Red Epic is put to good use and Ridley Scott really knows how to put his best foot forward, even after stepping into the realm of digital filmmaking.

 

Audio:

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Audio Format(s):  English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, English Descriptive Audio 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1

Subtitles:  English SDH, Spanish

DynamicsThe Counselor is a busy film, but the film always seemed to cleanly present its dialogue, big sound effects heavy sequences, and score elements.  It is a solid mix.

Low Frequency Extension:  There are some club sequences and uses of techno music that tend to add to a scene, especially when my subwoofer really started to come into play.

Surround Sound Presentation:  The atmospheric qualities of this film really lend themselves well to the surround presentation, which works well for attempting to keep the viewer engaged.

Dialogue Reproduction:  Dialogue is loud and clear throughout, given that no one ever really shuts up, when dealing with the Counselor.

 

Extras:

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As always, Ridley Scott does a fine job loading his films with extra features.  He provides a commentary track that also incorporates the various featurettes into the extended cut of the film, along with some viral marketing pieces, and a few other bonuses.

Features Include:

  • Unrated Extended Cut – Clocking in at 20 minutes longer than the theatrical version, The Counselor’s extended cut is merely a longer edition of the film, but not one that is more substantial.  Some plot elements are emphasized a bit more, we get a few more instances of process on screen, and there are some nastier results of certain scenarios stretched out a bit more.  It does not take away from my gripes with the film, but it still flows pretty efficiently for what it is.
  • Truth of the Situation:  Making The Counselor – This is only available on the second disc, which contains the Extended Cut.  It is a commentary track for the film, which also includes 13 featurettes that cut into the film.  It is fairly similar to WB’s Maximum Movie Modes, except the film stops until the feature finishes.  One can access these featurettes separately as well, but not view the film with just the commentary track.  This is 3 ½ hours of your day, by the way, so plan your time out well.
  • Viral Pieces: Uncut – Three short films that feature characters from the film and have some interesting guest spots.
  • Trailers
  • TV Spots
  • UltraViolet Copy of the Film

Summary:

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The Counselor remains one of my biggest disappointments from 2013, as it had all the star power and potential to be a really solid dark crime drama from one of my favorite directors.  The Blu-ray fits the bill of anything Ridley Scott puts out, after spending a lot of his own time making it pristine for home viewing.  I am a sucker for commentaries of course, so that did not make it any easier to still not enjoy the film all that much, despite knowing so much more about it.  Still, it is a somewhat interesting failure that may be worth checking out.

Order Your Copy Here:

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Aaron is a writer/reviewer for WhySoBlu.com.  Follow him on Twitter @AaronsPS4.
He also co-hosts a podcast,
Out Now with Aaron and Abe, available via iTunes or at HHWLOD.com

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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