Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Counselor and Character

I was excited to watch 'The Counselor', directed by Ridley Scott and written by Cormac McCarthy. In part because I have liked a lot of Scott's movies and I love McCarthy's writing but . . .

I was sorely disappointed.

From a cinematic standpoint, its great. Fantastic cast, wonderful imagery and intriguing nuances abound, but story wise it failed and it failed hard.

I read a piece over at word and film about McCarthy writing an unorthodox script that in time will come to be greatly appreciated, I wanted to believe that. I wanted to be "IN" on appreciating something genius that most people missed. But nope, this film just isn't what it was touted to be and I shouldn't be that surprised.

Now I'm not one to be offended at the over the top violence of McCarthy,  I dig Grimdark, he writes as savage as anyone these days - The Road, Blood Meridian, No Country for Old Men, and on the strength of those works I had very high hopes for The Counselor. But one thing McCarthy doesn't ever give is a satisfactory ending, not in any work of his I ever read. I truly hoped for this one to be different (partly because it is film) but alas no.

Ridley Scott who has made some great films is probably in a position where he can do no wrong (at least nobody working for him will tell him,  ala Lucas syndrome) but looking back at his last project Prometheus, we know that logic has just gone out the window in favor of sfx, and while they might be head-rolling sfx in The Counselor, they were just sfx none the less rather than STORY and CHARACTER and that is always a loser tradeoff.

Its not that there aren't merits here, there are, but unfortunately the biggest moment of genius and insight was 12 minutes into the extended cut, where the titular counselor is meeting an old Jewish diamond broker and they end up discussing the meaning of heroes - this scene was brilliant - but that's it, the rest of the movie is telling us how there are no more heroes and even when a character is pushed to the edge, we don't get anything satisfactory - sorry Scott/McCarthy and Word and Film, that's not something revolutionary that people will eventually appreciate. Not gonna happen - you should have all listened to the old diamond broker and represented heroism somehow.

So, I've been listening repeatedly to Robert McKee's STORY (see my last post) and he says true character is what a character does under pressure and that exactly is why The Counselor fails.

They may be portrayed by wonderful actors, but just having the characters have bad things happen to them does not make drama, it does not equal good story, it doesn't even make for a compelling horror movie that you tell your friends they need to see (Heads rolling again, we are informed of a sinister device early in the movie that we see executed toward the end - the old revolver in the drawer in the first act cliché) ~ Instead we see our characters in The Counselor find out they are in trouble and for the most part roll over and die. The one character absolutely still alive at the end isn't even a villain we want to hate, we just don't care, we never had any emotional appeal to be interested enough to hate the character - it is not a compelling tale nor a logical one.

I'm over simplifying things a little, but in essence they don't show us any metal when the going gets hard - they just die. It is not compelling drama and that's why it failed - not because people didn't "Get it".

A quote by David Farland seems appropriate right about now.
"I will respect my characters. This means that at the end of the story, I won't kill my protagonist or have him fail for no reason. I may have him die a heroic death, but if I do, there will be a purpose behind it, a deeper meaning, a compelling reason to end the tale tragically."


Charles Gramlich said...

Sorry to hear this really. I had hopes for it but didn't see it originally because I also had fears. McCarthy is certainly not an easy writer to like.

David J. West said...

I really wanted to like it, but it just didn't deliver.

Paul R. McNamee said...

I've seen (not read) No Country for Old Men. That definitely had an unsatisfactory ending for me.

My only other exposure to Cormac McCarthy is The Road - I listened to the audiobook.

I liked the story - grim as it was. I thought it had a very satisfactory ending - such as you described from Farland. The Man did his noble deed; he kept his boy alive and taught him to survive so he could manage on his own when the time came.

The thing that rubs me wrong about McCarthy is that - yes - he doesn't use quotation marks. I understand he's a lyrical, powerful writer and all - but why does he get away with such a flaunting of language basics?

Any of us submitted a manuscript without quoted dialog would get the trashbin treatment immediately.

I guess he impressed someone the first time?

I had noticed, at the time, that the audiobook for The Road not only had a narrator credit, it also had a director credit, which I had never seen before. I am guessing that is because someone went through the book for the narrator noting which sentences were dialog and belonged to which character so the reader would get it straight.

David J. West said...

That's how I read "The Road" too Paul = audio.

For Cormac, it has the "best" ending though I still felt we were left hanging quite a bit, but I get it.

T Bryan Vick said...

Well, sorry to hear this. I was looking forward to seeing it as well. Now I'm wondering if I should waste the time.

David J. West said...

Watch it if you feel like it Todd, but don't expect greatness.