Murky vs. Mystery – Narrative Lesson in ‘The Counselor’

Murky Clouds photo

Rarely have I been more disappointed in a film than The Counselor, written by Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Cormac McCarthy, directed by Ridley Scott, and starring a heavyweight cast of actors that included Michael Fassbender, Cameron Diaz, Penélope Cruz, Javier Bardem, and Brad Pitt.

The main issue with the movie is not that the studio refused to release the director’s cut or Scott’s contention that Fox’s prudishness negatively impacted the film. The primary problem boils down to the basics of narrative construction: we did not know what our protagonist, The Counselor, wanted and his decisions, and the consequences from them, had no meaning for the audience. Even worse than a movie being boring is when you don’t care what happens.

Beginning writers often mistake murkiness with mystery. This issue was further compounded in the film when the unnamed Counselor is treated like a character archetype, without the sign posts that the audience needs to feel the universality of the main character’s problems. More blood, sex, and moralistic dialogue cannot fix such a basic problem.

The fact that such a glaring issue of storytelling escaped the attention of an experienced director, writer, cast, and studio demonstrates the importance of writers of all levels to understand and apply the basic narrative building blocks in their own work.

Martin Ott

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Filed under Film, Writing, Writing Tips

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