The Counselor

This article is about the 2013 film. For the Goślicki book, see De optimo senatore.
The Counselor

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Ridley Scott
Produced by
Written by Cormac McCarthy
Music by Daniel Pemberton
Cinematography Dariusz Wolski
Edited by Pietro Scalia
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release dates
  • October 3, 2013 (2013-10-03) (Leicester Square)
  • October 25, 2013 (2013-10-25) (United States)
  • November 15, 2013 (2013-11-15) (United Kingdom)
Running time
118 minutes[1]
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
Language English
Budget $25 million[2]
Box office $71 million[3]

The Counselor (spelled The Counsellor in some markets) is a 2013 British-American crime thriller film directed by Ridley Scott and written by Cormac McCarthy. It stars Michael Fassbender as the eponymous Counselor—who gets in over his head in a drug deal around the troubled Ciudad Juarez, Mexico / Texas border area—as well as Penélope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem and Brad Pitt. The film deals with primal human concerns like greed, mortality, love, and trust related to the theme of corruption and profit in a high stakes criminal environment.

The Counselor was chosen as the closing film at the 2013 Morelia Film Festival and also played the Cork Film Festival. The London premiere was held on October 3, 2013 in Leicester Square. The New York City premiere was held on October 9, 2013. The film was theatrically released on October 25, 2013. It is dedicated to Scott's brother, Tony, who died in 2012.


A high-level cartel lawyer (never addressed by any name except as "the Counselor") and his girlfriend Laura are talking sexily in bed. Meanwhile, somewhere in Mexico, cocaine is packaged in barrels and concealed in a sewage truck, driven across the border and stored at a sewage treatment plant.

After the Counselor goes to Amsterdam to meet with a diamond dealer to purchase an engagement ring for Laura, he proposes and she accepts. At a party back in Texas thrown by Reiner and girlfriend Malkina, a former call girl with a greedy lust for money, the Counselor discusses a nightclub he and Reiner intend to run, as well as an upcoming drug deal, which would be his first.

The Counselor meets with Westray, a business associate of Reiner's. He hears of the deal's four-thousand percent return rate, but Westray warns the Counselor about becoming involved, saying that Mexican cartels are merciless. The Counselor remains outwardly confident and unconcerned.

Malkina gains knowledge of the deal through her access to Reiner and by conveniently overhearing various intercoms in Reiner's home. Reiner describes an execution device called "the bolito" which gradually strangles and decapitates the victim. Reiner also tells the Counselor how disturbed and oddly aroused he was from an incident where he witnessed Malkina masturbate with his Ferrari California's[4] windshield.

The Counselor visits a client, a prison inmate named Ruth who is on trial for murder. Ruth's son is a biker and a valued cartel member known as "the Green Hornet," recently arrested for speeding. The Counselor agrees to bail him out of jail.

Malkina senses an opportunity to undermine the Counselor's upcoming deal and to profit for herself. She employs "the Wireman" to steal the drugs. He decapitates the biker, Ruth's recently released son, with a wire stretched across the highway. Then the Wireman steals the truck containing the cocaine.

Learning of the theft, Westray meets with the Counselor to notify him that the biker is dead and the cocaine stolen, bleakly intoning the Counselor's culpability. Westray says he is leaving town immediately and suggests the Counselor do the same. Westray explains that the cartel's ruthlessness extends to creating "snuff films" where murder victims are filmed having necrophilia performed on them on camera. The Counselor makes an urgent call to Laura, arranging to meet her in another state, where he will explain.

The cartel has learned that the Counselor bailed out the Green Hornet, which appears as suspicious timing and fully blameworthy for the punitive purposes of the cartel. In Texas, two cartel members pretending to be police officers pull over the Wireman and his accomplice, killing both and also gunning down an innocent driver who comes upon the scene.

Reiner is accidentally killed by cartel members while they are attempting to capture him. The cartel then kidnaps Laura. In a last-ditch effort, The Counselor contacts Jefe, a high-ranking cartel member, for suggestions on what to do next. Jefe darkly and mordantly advises the Counselor to resign himself to the choices he made long beforehand.

The Counselor goes to Mexico, hoping to find and rescue Laura there. A package is slipped under the door of his hotel room and in it he finds a DVD with "Hola!" written on it, breaking down in heavy sobs at the awareness that the disk likely contains a snuff film of Laura sent by the cartel. Laura's headless body is dumped into a landfill.

Malkina's failed effort to steal the drugs does not deter her. She tracks Westray to London, where she hires a blonde woman to seduce him and steal his bank codes. She then has accomplices steal Westray's laptop, and he is killed with the "bolito" device that Reiner had previously described. Malkina then meets her banker at a restaurant, coolly explaining how she wants her profits and accounts to be handled.


Literary references

Writing for Serpent Box on October 28, 2013, Vincent Carrella identified the Spanish poet Antonio Machado as the source of the poetic verses used by the cartel kingpin, Jefe, when speaking to the Counselor. In the second half of the film, Jefe recites directly from the poem to the Counselor, “Caminante, no hay camino. Se hace camino al andar,” which translates in its original context as: wanderer, there is no road, the road is made by walking. This passage is taken from Machado's poem Campos de Castilla with Machado's reflections upon the prospects of his own life after learning of his wife being diagnosed with terminal tuberculosis from which she would die within a year. Jefe uses the poem to inform The Counselor of his own impending demise. In the film, Jefe concludes by telling the Counselor, “You are the world you have created. And when you cease to exist, that world you have created will also cease to exist.”[5]



On January 18, 2012, it was reported that novelist Cormac McCarthy had sold his first spec script, The Counselor, to Nick Wechsler, Steve Schwartz and Paula Mae Schwartz, who had previously produced the film adaptation of McCarthy's novel The Road.[6] On January 31, it was reported that Ridley Scott was currently considering several directorial projects, but that there was a strong possibility that The Counselor would be his next film and his follow-up to Prometheus.[7] On February 9, it was confirmed that Scott would direct.[8] Scott also became a producer. Cormac McCarthy, Mark Huffam, Michael Schaefer and Michael Costigan are executive producers.


Principal photography began on July 27, 2012 in London. The film was also shot in Spain and the United States.[9] On August 20, 2012, Scott halted production of the film due to his brother Tony's death. He canceled that week's shoot in order to travel to Los Angeles to be with his brother's family.[10] Scott returned to London to resume production on September 3.[11]

The film was dedicated to the memory of Tony Scott, who had taken his own life during production, and Matt Baker, the second assistant director on the film who had since died.[12] Only the Baker dedication is seen onscreen, however.

The first teaser trailer was released June 25, 2013.


Costume designer Janty Yates collaborated with Giorgio Armani on the film as a part of a new partnership between Armani and 20th Century Fox that also extends into retail and digital initiatives.[13] Armani was enlisted to create the wardrobes for the characters portrayed by Michael Fassbender and Penélope Cruz.[14] In addition to Armani, designer Paula Thomas also contributed to the film's wardrobe by dressing Cameron Diaz's character, Malkina, with roughly 15 different outfits.[15] "[It wasn't until] I read the script that I realized why [Scott] called upon me," said Thomas. "[Cameron's] character has a lot of elements of a Thomas Wylde woman. [She's] bold, edgy, modern. She’s about wanting to be seen, as opposed to blending into the background."[16]

For Javier Bardem's character, Yates applied a widely colorful wardrobe that was mostly made up of pieces of Versace.[16] As for Bardem's hair, the idea was the actor's own and inspired by film producer Brian Grazer's hairdo.[17]


The film score to The Counselor was composed by Daniel Pemberton.[18] Pemberton recorded the score with a full orchestra at Abbey Road Studios in addition to integrating home-recorded guitar noises and textures.[19] "Ridley responds really well to interesting and unusual sounds," explained Pemberton on the composer-director relationship. "So as a composer who likes making unusual sounds, that’s exciting. It was daunting but he was great to work with and up for experimenting. [...] He made the process a lot less scary than it should have been."[20] A soundtrack album was released digitally on October 22 and in physical forms on November 11, 2013 by Milan Records.[21]


Box office

Preliminary reports had The Counselor tracking for an $8.6–$13 million debut in North America.[22][23] The film opened to $3.2 million in 3,336 locations on Friday and opened at #4 in the box office with just a cumulative $7,842,930 over the weekend.[24]

Critical response

The film received negative reviews, although some praised Cameron Diaz's performance as one of her best in recent years. The film received a 35% approval rating on review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes, based on 199 reviews, with an average score of 5 out of 10. The consensus states: "The Counselor raises expectations with its talented cast and creative crew—then subverts them with a wordy and clumsy suspense thriller that's mercilessly short on suspense or thrills."[25] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 48 based on 42 reviews, considered to be "mixed or average reviews".[26] It received a very negative grade of a "D" from market-research firm CinemaScore.[27]

Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter gave a negative review, calling it "not a very likable or gratifying film," adding that "one is left with a very bleak ending and an only slightly less depressing sense of the waste of a lot of fine talent both behind and in front of the camera."[28] Mark Kermode listed it as number two on his Ten Worst Films of 2013.[29] Los Angeles Times critic Kenneth Turan stated, "As cold, precise and soulless as the diamonds that figure briefly in its plot, The Counselor is an extremely unpleasant piece of business."[30] Peter Debruge of Variety criticized Cormac McCarthy's script, saying that his "first original script is nearly all dialogue, but it's a lousy story, ineptly constructed and rendered far too difficult to follow."[31]

Conversely, Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film four stars out of four, saying "director Ridley Scott and screenwriter Cormac McCarthy have fashioned a sexy, sometimes shockingly violent, literate and richly textured tale of the Shakespearean consequences of one man’s irrevocable act of avarice" and called it "a bloody great time."[32] In addition, Manohla Dargis of The New York Times gave it a rave review, stating that "Mr. McCarthy appears to have never read a screenwriting manual in his life [...] That's a compliment."[33] Danny Leigh of the BBC programme Film 2013 praised the film, saying that "the real star is the script. What this film really is is a Cormac McCarthy audiobook with visuals by Ridley Scott. It's black as night, engrossing and masterful." He also acclaimed the performances, particularly Diaz's, and said, with regard to the negative reviews, "Movie history is littered with films that we all sneered at and we all laughed at and we all thought were terrible and the critics hated them and no-one went to see them, and then 40 years later they fetch up on programmes like this with everyone saying 'what a masterpiece!'"[34]

Scott Foundas, critic for Variety, wrote a defense of the film titled "Why The Counselor Is One of Ridley Scott's Best Films" in which he compared it to John Boorman's Point Blank and the screenplay to the work of David Mamet, Harold Pinter, and Quentin Tarantino. Foundas writes, "[the film] is bold and thrilling in ways that mainstream American movies rarely are, and its rejection suggests what little appetite there is for real daring at the multiplex nowadays."[35]


Year Group Award Result Notes
2014 London Critics Circle Film Awards British Actor of the YearNominated Michael Fassbender
2014 MTV Movie Awards Best WTF MomentNominated Cameron Diaz


  1. "THE COUNSELOR (18)". 20th Century Fox. British Board of Film Classification. October 15, 2013. Retrieved October 15, 2013.
  2. Kaufman, Amy (October 24, 2013). "Knoxville's 'Bad Grandpa' to end box-office reign of 'Gravity'". Los Angeles Times. Tribune Company. Retrieved October 24, 2013.
  3. "The Counselor (2013)". Box Office Mojo. IMDB. Retrieved November 20, 2013.
  4. 2009 Ferrari California in The Counselor, Movie, 2013
  5. Carrella, Vincent (October 28, 2013). "The Crossing, The Counselor and the Timely Death of Cormac McCarthy". Serpent Box.
  6. "Cormac McCarthy Sells First Spec Script". The Wrap News Inc. January 18, 2012. Retrieved August 2, 2012.
  7. Fleming, Mike (January 31, 2012). "Ridley Scott In Talks For Cormac McCarthy's 'The Counselor'". PMC. Retrieved August 2, 2012.
  8. Shirey, Paul (February 9, 2012). "Ridley Scott confirmed to direct Cormac McCarthy penned 'The Counselor'". Joblo Media Inc. Retrieved August 2, 2012.
  9. "First Looks at Michael Fassbender and Brad Pitt Filming 'The Counselor'". Glam Entertainment. August 1, 2012. Retrieved August 2, 2012.
  10. "Ridley Scott halts production on 'The Counselor' following brother's death". August 20, 2012. Retrieved August 21, 2012.
  11. Tartaglione, Nancy (September 2, 2012). "Ridley Scott Resumes 'The Counselor' Monday". Retrieved September 3, 2012.
  12. Calia, Michael (June 25, 2013). "Ridley Scott, Cormac McCarthy Team Up for 'The Counselor' Trailer". Speakeasy. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved June 26, 2013.
  13. Martens, Cynthia (October 2, 2013). "Giorgio Armani Signs On for 'The Counselor'". Women's Wear Daily. Fairchild Fashion Media. Retrieved October 26, 2013.
  14. Suhrawardi, Rebecca (October 22, 2013). "The dramatic fashion of 'The Counselor'". New York Post. News Corp. Retrieved October 26, 2013.
  15. Caroline, Ryder (October 17, 2013). "Cheetah Prints and Bullet Holes: Cameron Diaz' Dark Style in 'The Counselor'". The Hollywood Reporter. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved October 26, 2013.
  16. 1 2 Scharf, Lindzi (October 25, 2013). "Dressing Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem, and more stars of 'The Counselor'". Entertainment Weekly. CNN. Retrieved October 26, 2013.
  17. McClintock, Pamela (June 26, 2013). "CineEurope: Javier Bardem's Hairdo in 'The Counselor' Inspired by Brian Grazer's". The Hollywood Reporter. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved October 26, 2013.
  18. "Daniel Pemberton Scoring Ridley Scott's 'The Counselor'". Film Music Reporter. April 26, 2013. Retrieved October 12, 2013.
  19. "Daniel Pemberton's 'The Counselor' Score to be Released". Costa Communications. October 7, 2013. Retrieved October 12, 2013.
  20. "Interview: Daniel Pemberton". M. Bauer Publishing. September 23, 2013. Retrieved October 12, 2013.
  21. "'The Counselor' Soundtrack Details". Film Music Reporter. October 10, 2013. Retrieved October 12, 2013.
  22. Subers, Ray (October 24, 2013). "Forecast: Audiences to Take a Trip with 'Grandpa' This Weekend". Box Office Mojo. IMDB. Retrieved October 26, 2013.
  23. Pomerantz, Dorothy (October 24, 2013). "Why Hollywood Needs 'Jackass'". Forbes. Retrieved October 26, 2013.
  24. 'Jackass: Bad Grandpa' Box Office Aims For Mid-$20 Millions
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  27. Cinemascore
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  29. "Kermode Uncut: My Ten Worst Movies Of 2013". YouTube. December 26, 2013. Retrieved June 22, 2014.
  30. Turan, Kenneth (October 24, 2013). "Review: 'The Counselor' a bleak waste of A-list talent". Los Angeles Times.
  31. Debruge, Peter (October 24, 2013). "Film Review: 'The Counselor'". Variety. Penske Business Media. Retrieved November 3, 2013.
  32. Roeper, Richard (October 23, 2013). "'The Counselor': Outrageous sex, brutal violence and gorgeous words". Chicago Sun-Times. Sun-Times Media Group. Retrieved October 24, 2013.
  33. Dargis, Manohla (October 24, 2013). "Wildlife Is Tame; Not the Humans". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved October 27, 2013.
  34. "Episode 10". 2013. Series 10/15. November 13, 2013. 29 minutes in. BBC. BBC One.
  35. Foundas, Scott (October 28, 2013). "Why 'The Counselor' Is One of Ridley Scott's Best Films". Variety. Penske Business Media. Retrieved November 3, 2013.
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