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On Blu-ray: THE COUNSELOR: UNRATED EXTENDED CUT (2013)

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THE COUNSELOR: UNRATED EXTENDED CUT
(US/UK - 2013)

Directed by Ridley Scott.  Written by Cormac McCarthy.  Cast: Michael Fassbender, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt, Bruno Ganz, Rosie Perez, Ruben Blades, Sam Spruell, Dean Norris, John Leguizamo, Edgar Ramirez, Toby Kebbell, Goran Visnjic, Natalie Dormer, Richard Cabral, Richard Brake, Andrea Deck, Giannina Facio. (Unrated, 138 mins)

Over the course of his lengthy career, Ridley Scott has been one of the key figures in the advent of the "director's cut," largely from his experiences with 1982's BLADE RUNNER.  Scott famously clashed with the producers and for a decade, the version of the film that everyone knew was despised by both Scott and star Harrison Ford.  Then, in 1992, the Director's Cut was released, only it wasn't a true "director's cut" in the sense that Scott, then busy filming 1492: CONQUEST OF PARADISE, wasn't directly involved in the project, which was assembled based on his notes and what was known to be his original ending.  It was close, but not quite a director's cut, though it went a long way in establishing the film as the classic we know today and prompted many critics who dismissed the film in 1982 to reconsider it.  In 2007,  Scott was able to make subtle changes and "The Final Cut" finally provided fans with the BLADE RUNNER its maker always intended.  Scott had similar, though much less drawn-out, experiences with Universal over the 1985 fantasy epic LEGEND.  The studio sat on the film for a year and finally released it in 1986 with a different score and 30 minutes cut out.


Years later, DVD and Blu-ray editions of LEGEND featured both the uncut European version (Scott's cut) and the butchered US version, and the 2007 BLADE RUNNER set featured four (!) versions, with a deluxe box set containing a fifth, the pre-release workprint version.  These two films are the prime examples of Scott's director's cuts being used to right what he considered a wrong.  After the 2003 "Director's Cut" of his 1979 classic ALIEN, Scott refrained from using the term "director's cut" because he felt it implies that the director is unhappy with the previously released version.  Scott still considers the 1979 ALIEN the definitive version, but only offered the "director's cut" because fans wanted to see the legendary cut footage of the cocooned Dallas (Tom Skerritt) and Brett (Harry Dean Stanton) being used as food for the alien.  Both characters were simply killed off in the '79 version after Scott opted to ditch the "cocoon" feeding angle.  On the DVD, Scott explains that both versions are being offered and people don't have to worry that their preferred cut is being "replaced."  He basically says "They're both here...watch the one you want to watch."  That's been Scott's philosophy with the DVD and eventual Blu-ray presentations of most of his work after that.  GLADIATOR (2000), BLACK HAWK DOWN (2001), KINGDOM OF HEAVEN (2005), AMERICAN GANGSTER (2007), and ROBIN HOOD (2010) all have "extended versions" included alongside the standard editions.   Sometimes, the changes help--KINGDOM OF HEAVEN's extended version adds 45 minutes that really do enhance and enrich the film--while other times, it's inessential.  The 19 minutes added to AMERICAN GANGSTER add little to the film other than superfluous bloat.  Scott doesn't offer these alternate cuts to illustrate dissatisfaction but rather, just as a bonus for fans.  They're scenes or plot threads he decided not to use, but if you're so inclined, here's what the film looked like at one point.  In most cases, Scott's extended versions serve as the cut before the final cut.  Oddly, the one recent film of Scott's that feels compromised in its released version and really does warrant a director's cut is 2012's PROMETHEUS, and it has yet to materialize other than a handful of deleted scenes on the Blu-ray.


Scott's 2013 film THE COUNSELOR was just released on Blu-ray with both the 117-minute theatrical version (reviewed here) and a 138-minute "unrated extended cut."  The film opened to some of the most toxic reviews of the year in what quickly became a ludicrous pile-on, culminating in numerous blurbs that it was the worst movie of the year, with Salon's Andrew O'Hehir going even further than that by declaring, in a stunning example of over-the-top hyperbole that should effectively prevent him from ever being taken seriously again, "Meet the new worst movie ever made." Audiences despised it and the film scored a D on the witless CinemaScore.  But then, something odd happened, and it happened quickly.  Buzz started spreading around the internet that THE COUNSELOR wasn't nearly as bad as the reviews suggested and that, if approached with an open mind and an appreciation for the work of novelist Cormac McCarthy, making his screenwriting debut, it proved a rewarding experience.  By the end of its second, and in most of the country, last week of release, it had already transformed from much-maligned box-office bomb to a genuine cult film that didn't get a fair shake from critics.  I was discussing THE COUNSELOR with a friend on Facebook recently and someone commented "Were the critics watching the movie or were they watching each other?"


As I stated in my original review from October 2013, THE COUNSELOR is a mess but it's a fascinating mess.  If you didn't like the theatrical version, then there's little chance that the extended cut will change your feelings.  Given the verbose nature of what we've already seen, the bulk of the additional 21 minutes primarily consist of dialogue, something which the theatrical cut of THE COUNSELOR certainly wasn't lacking (some of the scenes in the late-going occur in a slightly different order as well).  There's some additional dirty talk during the opening with Michael Fassbender and Penelope Cruz in bed.  There's a long monologue for Bruno Ganz as the Amsterdam diamond dealer.  There's a new intro for drug-running motorcyclist The Green Hornet (Richard Cabral), who tells a joke about dog food and "licking your balls."  The already-infamous "Cameron Diaz fucks a car" sequence is augmented by some additional graphic details from Javier Bardem.  The death of one major character is much gorier in the extended version.  None of these scenes really add any depth to the film, and though Ganz is terrific in his additional footage, you can see it's one of those scenes that an experienced director of Scott's caliber could see wasn't really essential.  The same goes for a comical throwaway scene of one of Bardem's cheetahs crashing a neighbor's backyard barbecue.


Aside from the additional 21 minutes (the extended cut is only available on the two-disc Blu-ray set, with the theatrical version on the other disc), the highlight of the second disc is the documentary/visual essay "Truth of the Situation: Making THE COUNSELOR."  Described as an "immersive experience" and running a whopping 216 minutes, "Truth" covers just about anything a fan of THE COUNSELOR would want to know.  It's part audio commentary with Scott, with the extended version of the film frequently intercut with corresponding behind-the-scenes footage and cast & crew interviews.  Scott is blunt about what works and what doesn't (the extended cut contains a gratuitous and unconvincing shot of one character's severed head and Scott says "I think I'm glad I cut that"), and it's the kind of extra usually reserved for something along the lines of a Criterion release, a fascinating journey inside a film whose tattered reputation was already on the mend before it even left theaters.


Scott seems to be of the opinion that he's happy with the theatrical version, and I'd probably go that route on future viewings.  It's a film of odd rhythms and heavy dialogue that requires patience, and with the 21 minutes added to the extended cut, things do get occasionally tedious.  Admirers of THE COUNSELOR--a continually growing lot--will want to check out the extended cut and the absolutely essential "Truth of the Matter," which will only expand their appreciation of one of 2013's strangest and most misunderstood major-studio releases.  And, like Scott has said in the past:  both versions are here...choose the one you prefer. 




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