Welcome to the latest edition of 24 Frames. Andrew Jamieson will be guiding you through the exciting, confusing and often brilliant world of 'film'. Expect news, trailers and plenty of opinion.


The 'Revenge' Edition

Last Friday saw the UK release of one of the most derided movies of 2013, Ridley Scott's The Counsellor. The movie has caused critics and audiences around the world to be annoyed and disappointed by a movie many cinema-goers had anticipated as being one of the best of the year. On a purely subjective level I thought the movie was easily one of the best pictures I have seen for a while. I would therefore like to offer a defence of the movie and perhaps point readers toward a more positive understanding of it, so that I'm not alone.

One of the reasons many people have taken against the film is because of the presentation of its language. Most reviews tend to mention the ponderous nature of some of the dialogue such as when Cameron Diaz mentions that "the truth has no temperature" in the second scene of the movie. What this line actually points toward is the cynical and nihilistic tone of the entire movie; here truth and morality is redundant and neither hot or cold. I mention Diaz first, as while it may seem that the narrative drive of the movie is focused on Michael Fassbender's character, the movie actually belongs to Diaz's Malkina. She is the antagonist of the movie and stealthily manipulates each situation to her own gain. Malkina keeps cheetahs and makes reference to the fact that she enjoys watching her pets find and consume their quarry which is "killed with elegance."

In a film in which each person lets their desires destroy them, I thought it was actually quite liberating to see a female matriarch destroy her prey and emerge from the film as its only winner. The much vaunted scene when Diaz has sex with a car is also a way of illustrating the fact that Malkina should always be considered with a sense of ambiguous mistrust by the Counsellor and her own lover Reine, played by Javier Bardem. Even in terms of lurid pulpy comedy.

Diaz is a treat to watch as she attends the confessional booth, and when she attempts to subvert Penelope Cruz's character Laura by questioning her religion and making her feel uneasy about her sexual prowess and fulfilment. As the movie concludes, Diaz's banker says to her that he is glad he does not think the same way as she does. The audience surely agrees with this cue and yet within the context of the narrative - once Malkina has triumphed - I actually found myself enjoying the fact she had murdered and manipulated her way to victory, displaying a paternal overture to the evils she had visited on her associates. Even the infamous sex scene with the car plays on Malkina's wanton desire and terrifying force of will. When juxtaposed next to Laura's naivety and hope, Cormac McCarthy effortlessly illustrates that in this world the kind people perish as they are eaten by the wolves (or in this case the cheetahs!).

  • Cameron Diaz as Malkina in The Counsellor

This type of theme resonates in other forms of American fiction from John Steinbeck to F Scott Fitzgerald and yet when it is realized here it is derided.

The prominent British critic Mark Kermode, of who I am a great admirer, discusses the scene in which the fixer, Westray (played by Brad Pitt), makes reference to a snuff movie: "the consumer of the product is essential to its production." Kermode cites this scene as a reference to the pomposity of the picture and a key indicator of the flaw in its aesthetic storytelling style. What Westray actually makes reference to is the key contextual idea at the heart of the story. The Counsellor is attempting to make more money by taking part in a drug deal to fund his lifestyle. The Michael Fassbender character is motivated by his own greed. Westray describes how the end user of a snuff movie is as guilty as the instigators of such a violent act. While Pitt is also describing how gangsters deal with their victims, the first part of the dialogue here is allegorical and a beautifully framed piece.

Westray's words offer a sobering reflection on many capitalist enterprises in which people do not question where the clothes, food or electronics they consume come from or how many poorer people suffered in the production apparatus where humility is often vacant as money becomes the power broker of morality itself. The Counsellor himself is culpable and the dialogue from Pitt, while seemingly portentous, places a dark emphasis on the morality of capitalist desire. This scene is therefore indicative of a movie that has a theme at its heart, and while not particularly uplifting, it is an illustration of the grotesquery that is prevalent throughout the modern consumerist world. In the story of The Counsellor, the only person who is painted in a positive light is Laura (Penelope Cruz) and yet she is almost a sacrificial lamb used as an almost metaphorical character to show that because she only desires love (the only thing that can't be purchased) she is brutally disposed of; her loss is also illustrative of the central theme I have already mentioned.

Some commentators have also said that the actors struggle to speak the prose from McCarthy's screenplay, however I would argue that the delivery is well done. Yes the characters are archetypal, but the dialogue cements an overtly serious tone to the mood of the entire picture. Yes 'real' people do not talk like this but I love to see any movie that takes prose and attempts to put it on screen. The fact that each character is underdeveloped also streamlines the plot so that we, the audience, can descend into the nightmare of the story at a quick pace. Ridley Scott's direction and the superb cinematography portrays a world that is all based around the vacuous nature of the criminal world, a world where money and possessions are more important than depth of character or spirit. In the final frame that we spend with the Counsellor, his guilt and culpability are there for all to see. Even though he did not steal the drugs or kill anybody, he took a big risk and paid the price even though some of those events were out of his control. He is the end user of a snuff movie now and his love is dead.

In conclusion, The Counsellor is one of the best movies of the year and I will defend its honour as I live out my days on this planet. While I can see why the world has taken against it, I thought it was a stunningly nasty and mean spirited movie and a great counterpoint to the uplifting wonder of Alfonso Cuarron's Gravity. Cameron Diaz's character Malkina brings us right back down to earth, and as Cormac MCcarthy suggests, it is not a pleasant place.