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Underappreciated Film: Guillermo del Toro on Ridley Scott’s ‘The Counselor’

Guillermo del Toro has often been a champion for forgotten or underappreciated films, and that description could certainly apply to Ridley Scott’s bleak, Cormac McCarthy-scripted drug-war meditation “The Counselor,” which was greeted largely by critical boos when it came out in 2013.

“I don’t know if I subscribe to the term of ‘underappreciated,’ because I think each movie finds its audience,” del Toro says. “We all know that this is a business. But we also should acknowledge that it’s an art, and just like a painting or a movie or a dinner-play, a film often finds its audience that absolutely loves it on a molecular level. And it may be a handful of people or it may be a lot of people. But ‘The Counselor’ to me is filled with things that, as a Mexican, I understand on that level. I know that death, and finality, and tragedy exist right around the corner in everybody’s life. And that once you cross that line, as Ruben Blades says, the world will not take you back.

“I’m a lapsed Catholic, and I’m a Mexican Catholic, so I understand the tale of a man who thinks he controls the world and then dips his toe into a dimension that he thinks he understands, that he doesn’t, and that dipping of the toe completely destroys his life. I love that. There are very few crime movies that manage to tackle that incredibly existential limit. I think the ‘The Friends of Eddie Coyle’ is another one that is just so ruthless in that same way. ‘Killing Them Softly,’ which is based on the same types of characters, also is tremendously hardcore about this edge. You don’t go past this edge, and if you go, there’s a whole other world.

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“When my father was kidnapped, everything in my life, for the rest of my life, changed. I find it really dangerous when people fictionalize the drug-dealing business as just another good guys-bad guys fable. I think ‘The Counselor’ has the sort of quotidian regality and relentless brutality that the business really has. And rarely do you see it portrayed in those terms.

“I also think there are just scenes in there that hold a strange fascination to me. The diamond seller played by Bruno Ganz, and how it serves as a viewpoint for the darkness of the rest of the movie, I think is just brilliant.”

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