A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this dark, fairly compelling drama featuring a star-studded cast -- Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Cameron Diaz -- is best for the oldest of teens and adults, who won't likely be overwhelmed by the bleakness and graphic violence in it. Some sex scenes, though not showing genitalia, are fairly graphic in setup, depicting couples having oral sex and, in one scene, a fetishistic act. Characters swear often ("bitch" and "f--k").
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What's the story?
The titular, and unnamed, Counselor (Michael Fassbender) in this sleek, savage action drama is tired of staying in his lane. Defending criminals who've landed in jail, wrongfully or not, won't cut it anymore, not when he's in love with a beautiful, sweet woman, Laura (Penelope Cruz), with whom he wants to have a happily, and gorgeous, ever after. But his would-be partner in the drug trade, nightclub owner Reiner (Javier Bardem), warns him that no matter how dangerous one imagines it to be, it's even more dangerous. There are no codes of conduct. There are no laws of engagement. Reiner's girlfriend, Malkina (Cameron Diaz), seems to know a thing or two about that danger. Reiner's former associate, Westray (Brad Pitt), who knows how dirty and destructive the business can get, issues his own admonitions, too. But the Counselor won't change his mind. He has just bought a near-flawless diamond for Laura; he envisions a bigger life; and he wants in, and then quickly out. But as he soon discovers, the cost of doing business this way is high -- very high.
Is it any good?
Ridley Scott is a stylish director, and he swabs a glossy sheen over THE COUNSELOR that he then systematically destroys once he's in too deep. It's a punishing process that leaves the audience at the edge of their seats, but exhausted and a little confused, too. Crowded with personalities large and quite possibly deranged, The Counselor attacks the senses like a well-timed hit, but the comedown is harsh. Scott's a master at creating an overwhelming sense of foreboding, especially when violence is just around the corner, but it's nearly unrelenting and, as a result, fatigues. Without room to breathe, the audience can't appreciate the artistry.
Cormac McCarthy, who wrote the screenplay, lives in a bleak, depressing world, and draws fascinating, complicated characters that make you feel uncomfortable in your own skin. But his Counselor seems oddly naive for a lawyer who works in a challenging profession -- how many warnings does he need? -- and the dialogue, though displaying a wit and intelligence few scripts possess, seems better on paper than said and heard out loud. (They're spoken like finely honed paragraphs.) Also, we get too many hints of what lies ahead, as if Scott wanted to make sure we were paying attention. In the end, we are left with too many questions, one of which is central to the story: Why did the Counselor stray from his usual path? And this: Do we care enough to puzzle it out?
Talk to your kids about ...
Parents can talk about the motivation of the main character. Why would he want to delve into criminal activity? How is the audience supposed to react to his choices?
Talk about how the film portrays the price of being involved in drug trafficking. Does the movie glamorize it?
- In theaters: October 25, 2013
- On DVD or streaming: February 11, 2014
- Cast: Brad Pitt, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem, Michael Fassbender, Penelope Cruz
- Director: Ridley Scott
- Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 111 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: graphic violence, some grisly images, strong sexual content and language
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.
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