Film: The Counselor

The Counselor is a 2013 thriller directed by Ridley Scott and starring Michael Fassbender, Penélope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem, and Brad Pitt. It is notable for being the first original screenplay written by novelist Cormac McCarthy (of No Country for Old Men and The Road fame) to be produced.

The film follows an attorney (Fassbender) who gets in way over his head when he tries to make money to pay for his upcoming marriage to the beautiful Laura (Cruz) by striking a deal with Mexican drug lords, including their emissary, Reiner (Bardem) and his girlfriend Malkina (Diaz).

The film was released on October 25. Trailers can be seen here and (along with a synopsis and character summary) here. A curious thing about the film poster is that the actors are seen without their names listed at all. A way of avoiding the Misplaced-Names Poster, or are the actors just that popular?


The Counselor contains examples of:

  • Affably Evil:
    • Reiner, despite being a big time dealer, is a nice, non-violent, charismatic man who lives a lavish, legit life during the day.
    • Westray as well, who tries to help out the Counselor when they first meet and never loses his temper.
  • Alas, Poor Villain:
    • Reiner, considering how nice he was, and because he was one of the few people who got screwed over by Malkina and died an ignominious death.
    • Westray. He had several chances to live a carefree, simple life. And when he finally realizes to cut and run, he gets a bolito wrapped around his neck.
  • Animal Motifs: Malkina and cheetahs. She owns a pair of them, has a monologue about them, is introduced watching them hunt, and mentions several times how ferociously hungry she is. If all of that was too subtle, she also has cheetah spots tattooed over her body.
  • The Anti-Nihilist: The Dealer:
    At our noblest we announce to the darkness that we will not be diminished by the brevity of our lives. That we will not be made less.
  • Anyone Can Die: While the death toll isn't too high, by the end of the film, most of the major characters who appeared in more than two scenes are dead.
  • Auto Erotica: Literally. Malkina doesn't have sex with Reiner inside or on his Ferrai; she masturbates using the Ferrai's windshield.
  • The Bechdel Test: Passes in the original screenplay.
  • Bi the Way: Malkina.
  • Big Bad: Malkina.
  • Boom, Headshot: Reiner gets killed this way by some Cartel goons in a failed attempt to kidnap him.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The motor-driven garotte (referred to as a "Bolito") Reiner describes to the Counselor.
    • The snuff films mentioned by Westray to the Counselor.
  • The Chessmaster: Malkina arrays the theft of the septic truck and arranges the situation so that Reinier, Westray and The Counselor are blamed for its loss by proxy; though she loses the truck to the cartel, she tracks down Westray and steals his running-away loot.
  • Cool Guns/Submachine Guns: The cartel gunmen who hijack the truck are packing full-auto Uzi pistols.
  • The Corruption: Going into business with the cartel or getting involved in any kind of crime at all is immensely corrosive to personal ethics.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Remember the Bolito that Reiner talked about earlier? We get to see it in action and used on Westray. The results? It ain't pretty and it turns Westray's neck into a pez-dispenser.
  • Dead Star Walking: Brad Pitt, Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz.
  • Despair Event Horizon: When the Counselor receives a DVD—and knows, without playing it, that it is a video of Laura's death.
  • Doomed Protagonist: The Counselor was pretty much screwed by Malkina being aware of his and Rainier's deal with the Cartel from the get go.
  • Downer Ending: Boy howdy. Reiner and Westray are killed. Multiple people, civilian and criminal, are killed in the delivery of the drug shipment to Chicago. Laura is killed in a gruesome, Nothing Is Scarier manner off-screen. Her death is likely recorded as a snuff film. The tape is sent to the Counselor who has a Despair Event Horizon moment. He'll likely be killed soon after. Her body is thrown in a garbage dump. Malkina, who set the whole plot in motion with the theft of the drug shipment, gets off scot-free with Westray's money.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Jaime. He is a substantial part of the small plot, has many of his own scenes, and gets shot to death while the camera is in wide shot. Very, very unceremonious of this film.
  • Evil Is Not a Toy: The Central Theme of the film; once the deal is done, the Counselor thinks he can walk away from the Cartel. He can't. He was already singled out by Malkina to take the blame for the loss of the septic truck.
  • Femme Fatale: Malkina.
  • Fingore: Westray tries to stop the motor-driven garotte by putting his hands between his neck and the constricting wire. The garotte proves too sharp and cuts off his fingers and head anyway.
  • For the Evulz: Malkina is beautiful and wealthy beyond imagination. That doesn't stop her sociopathic ass from sending some goons to rip off the drug shipment the Counselor financed, setting off a chain of events that allow the drugs to be stolen by a rival cartel, with everyone now being culpable. This gets about everyone she knows killed, but she sticks around long enough to see Westray beheaded so she can steal whatever he has in his account. No explanation for this behavior is made explicit.
  • Foreshadowing: Westray makes a few references to snuff films during his conversations. Near the end of the film, The Counselor receives a DVD that is most likely a snuff film of Laura.
    • Rainier hints from his incident with Malkina when she literally and very graphically masturbates with the windshield of his sports car that she is capable of things far more disturbing and intimidating than she usually betrays. By the end she has caused his death, Westray's and Laura's and leaves the Counselor as a fingered man to the Cartel.
      • This is hinted even earlier as Malkina mentions to Rainier that he reminds her of a dead man she met before, implying that she had done to someone what she was about to do to Rainier.
  • Gorn: See Cruel and Unusual Death.
  • Heroic Sacrifice When the Counselor offers to take Laura's place and be tortured to death by the Cartel. It's already too late.
  • Karma Houdini: Malkina.
  • Kill the Cutie: Laura, the only character in the entire movie who's completely innocent.
  • Large Ham: What, did you think Javier Bardem was going to underplay Reiner?
  • Madonna–Whore Complex: Laura is the Madonna, and Malkina is the Whore.
  • Market-Based Title: A minor example. In the U.S., the film is titled "The Counselor", but the international trailer uses the more Brit-friendly spelling "The Counsellor".
  • No Name Given: The main character is known simply as "The Counselor". The same thing goes for characters like the Blonde, the Diamond Dealer and el Jefe.
  • Off with His Head!: Most notably the scene involving the piano wire stretched across a road and the aforementioned Chekhov's Gun.
  • Previews Pulse: The Russian trailer has it.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: The cartel member Jefe gives the Counselor a philosophically lecture about how grief is useless and that there's nothing he can do to save Laura due to his stupid actions.
  • Screw This, I'm Out of Here!:
    • Westray says he can do this when things go to hell. He almost succeeds but winds up on the receiving end of a bolito.
    • The Blonde quickly refuses to have anything more to do with Malkina after figuring out she plans on killing Westray.
  • Snuff Film: Westray suggests to the Counselor that the people who they are both working for are capable of this. They are.
  • Spear Carrier: The Diamond Dealer, the uncredited character played by Leguizamo, the Buyer, the Blonde, el Jefe.
  • The Vamp: Malkina.
  • What You Are in the Dark: Malkina makes romantic advances towards Laura which she dodges. As it turned out, this very action determined whether Malkina would spare Laura from the oncoming onslaught, as Malkina had already chosen the Counselor to be the fall guy for her scheme. Too bad Laura chose wrong...