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No country for women

Monday 25th November 2013


In The Counselor, Cameron Diaz is pure, undiluted evil. She also has sex with a car.

Written for the screen by the famously-pessimistic Cormac McCarthy and directed by the famously-uneven Ridley Scott, The Counselor is a film about evil – the evil that lurks in our hearts, the evil we indulge for our own benefit, the evil we allow by providing an audience.

It's an evil that thrives in New Mexico's scummy human ecosystem, from Michael Fassbender's hapless, arrogant Counselor (perpetually nameless, a small fish in a big pond) to the state's apex predator, a Barbadian temptress named Malkina. As played by Diaz, she's a callous sociopath, a femme fatale bemused by her prey.

You trace her DNA to another McCarthy sociopath, No Country For Old Men's Anton Chigurh. Implacable and blasé about the value of life, Chigurh cuts through No Country's West Texas, a string of unnecessarily dead bodies in his wake. He pursues Llewelyn Moss, a fundamentally decent guy, because his sole purpose is propping a world of violence and iniquity.

Malkina's isn't just an agent for an ugly world, though. Where Chigurh straight up didn't care about people, Malkina has nothing but contempt for them; where Chigurh killed when he could because he could, Malkina watches her quarry, waits for the moment to strike.

The biggest difference, though, is that Malkina's a woman - not even a woman, a hypersexual one. Her womanhood and her sexual appetite are both intrinsic to her identity as a monster. When his character, goofball drug lord Rainier, relates the story of the aforementioned car-sex, Javier Bardem dials the affability, talks as if he saw something horrible out there, something that scarred him for life - something 'gynaecological'.

So it is that The Counselor has a problem with women. It has a character whose fatal flaw is his weakness for women; it implies that the Counselor wouldn't be in the position he's in if he wasn't giddy about his girlfriend; it makes that girlfriend, the saintly Laura, the 'Madonna' to Malkina's 'Whore'. But that makes sense, you might say. The Counselor's about evil, so no-one gets off easy. Besides, all the men are arrogant, out of their depth, callous in their own ways.

The difference is that The Counselor has sympathy for its men. Rainier, the Counselor, Brad Pitt's weary middle-man Westray – their downfalls are humiliating and of their own making, but they're also tragic. Tragic because, as these men fall, they get to realise what they did to cause that fall.

The same can't be said of the women. One is a savage beast, no identity beyond her prey; the second is a Madonna, defined by a man; a third is paid no regard, a gear in a pitiless machine. Only one woman in The Counselor experiences a moment of anagnorisis, enlightenment, as the men do.

Her character name is 'Blonde'.

The Counselor may be a grand tragedy. But, no doubt about it, it's a male one.