10 Reasons Cormac McCarthy and Ridley Scott’s “The Counselor” is Probably Going to be Terrible

Poster for McCarthy’s new film.

I love Cormac McCarthy, a lot. Ever since I read Blood Meridian for a Freshman Composition class (no, really) I’ve been in love with the man’s prose. I read all his novels, wrote my Master’s thesis on him, visited his archives at TSU San Marcos and read his original manuscripts, taught The Road in several courses, published two papers on him in literary journals, wrote about his works for CaPC (here, and here, and here), and was even quoted in Wikipedia on No Country for Old Men (no, really).

So, believe me when I say that I want The Counselor to be amazing. But after watching the just released trailer and reading some reports from those who have read the script, I think I may have to counsel against it.

5 Things you need to know:

1. The Counselor is McCarthy’s first screenplay to be made into a major motion picture. He’s had some fantastic books adapted into films (All the Pretty Horses, The Road) and even one good book which was adapted into a fantastic movie (No Country for Old Men), but this is his first screenplay to be made into a film.

2. The cast and director are pretty great. Ridley Scott, Brad Pitt, Javier Bardem, Michael Fassbender, Penelope Cruz, and Cameron Diaz. And to top it off, McCarthy seems to have taken a very active role in the filming process, which could mean that the final film does justice to his screenplay.

3. It comes out October 25th.

4. McCarthy’s works have traditionally raised challenging and valuable questions about the presence of evil in the world and our ability to control it. His last two works, The Road and The Sunset Limited have explicitly dealt with faith, the existence of God, and even Christianity in particular.

5. The plot: “The film tells the story of a lawyer, played by Fassbender, who finds himself in over his head when he gets involved in drug trafficking.”

10 Reasons why it’s probably gonna be terrible, but I hope not (no, really): 

1. The trailer:

2. There are a few signature McCarthy elements here (drugs, violence, ethical quandaries), but on the whole it feels like it could have been written by any number of Breaking Bad-inspired, starving Hollywood screenwriters.

Anton Chigurh

3. There’s nothing really unsettling, except Cameron Diaz crawling on the hood of an SUV (no, really). One of McCarthy’s greatest gifts is the ability to make the reader (or viewer) profoundly uncomfortable, even disoriented. Often, this disorientation comes from some deep evil in the world: Judge Holden in Blood Meridian, Anton Chigurh in No Country, the whole wasteland in The Road. What’s unsettling about a drug deal gone wrong?

4. According to trusted sources who have read a version of the screenplay, the film is a vice/virtue story. This troubles me. The only promising bit of dialogue in the trailer is when Javier Bardem tells Michael Fassbender (the lawyer who has decided to make one big drug deal to get rich) that if he goes through with the deal, “you eventually come to moral decisions that will take you completely by surprise.”

Really, Mr. Drug Dealer Bardem? Cause, I would think that the only thing surprising about the moral decisions in a huge drug deal would be if they weren’t surprising and disturbing. In a post-Breaking Bad world, I have a hard time feeling compelled to watch a film that shows me that drug dealing is bad and dangerous. At least with Walter White you’re invited to sympathize with him at the beginning; you get why he’s willing to “break bad,” even if you still believe it’s wrong. But I have a hard time sympathizing with a lawyer who learns the hard way that crime doesn’t pay.

I hope I’m wrong here. I hope there’s some deeper, more challenging moral questions in the film, or at least I hope McCarthy draws out some commentary on the nature of human depravity, or something.

5. Penelope Cruz will play a religious character who may be losing her faith. In an interview last year with Collider, she said regarding her role: “it’s a character that has always chosen the light.  Has very particular ideology, is a very religious woman, or has been educated like that and is starting to have doubts about some things.  Or, also starting to feel a curiosity toward the darkness. Also knowing that there is a very big, real danger there.  Life is putting her in that situation where she’s tasting the darkness.”

Okay, so this could actually be a good sign. It’s possible that McCarthy uses Cruz’s character to explore a kind of loss of faith. Since her character is Spanish and McCarthy was raised Catholic, my guess is that her character will be, too. I’m hoping that this might hint at where McCarthy’s coming down on the religion. During his infamous Oprah interview, he said it depended on what day you asked him whether or not he believed in God. Maybe, just maybe Cruz’s character will indicate some more specific religious sympathies, but I doubt it.

6. Early in the creative process, someone got ahold of the screenplay and leaked it. A bunch of McCarthy scholars and super-fans read the script and the rumor is, it’s pretty awful. Many of them felt it was the worst thing McCarthy had written outside of an unpublished screenplay. At least one person thought it was a masterpiece. A few thought it was okay. But the general impression was that the dialogue was poorly written.

7. Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the trailer and the screenplay (based on the early reports) is that McCarthy wrote sex scenes. McCarthy, if you didn’t know, is a 80-year-old man who lives a fairly isolated life. Word is the dialogue in these scenes are particularly clumsy and awkward. For example:

8. #HaveYouBeenBad —The worst movie hashtag.

AHHHH SWEEET #WomanCrushWednesday! This Motion Picture is gonna be AWESOME!

9. Since No Country for Old Men, the suspicion among many McCarthy scholars and fans is that his goal has been to make money, quickly. He is a 80-year-old man with a 14-year-old son, and almost his entire life he has done as little as possible, aside from writing. A screenplay from America’s greatest living author surely is worth quite a bit. And you can’t exactly blame the man for wanting to provide for his kid.

10. I am probably just lowering my expectations so I can enjoy it, no matter how bad it is (no, really).

 I really do hope I’m wrong.

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About Alan Noble

(Co-Founder/Editor/Columnist) is a part-time lecturer at Baylor University. He received his PhD in Contemporary American Literature from Baylor, writing on manifestations of transcendence in 20th Century American Lit. He and his family attend Redeemer Waco, a PCA church. Alan's passion is studying how believers can be a faithful presence in culture to the glory of God and the edification of others. In addition to editing, Alan writes his column, Citizenship Confusion for CaPC.

---Follow Alan on Twitter @TheAlanNoble and on Facebook.

---For questions, comments, or interest in speaking engagements please email me at noble.noneuclidean [at] gmail [dot] com.