The Big Short (2016)

★★★★

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The Big Short PosterDirector: Adam McKay

Release Date: December 23rd, 2015 (US); January 22nd, 2016 (UK)

Genre: Biography; Drama

Starring: Steve Carell, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt

The Big Short recalls the audacious actions of “a few outsiders and weirdos”, a group of like-minded money men who managed to accurately predict the 2008 global financial crash years in advance. Sure, it may not sound like the most enthralling venture, but it is. Adam McKay’s outing finds its footing somewhere between the maniacal antics of The Wolf of Wall Street and J.C. Chandor’s sobering Margin Call, lined with humour and born out of blood-boiling truth. Warning: it is a piece wholeheartedly set in its ways — if you are on the side of the bankers, this ain’t for you (nor, frankly, is decency).

Christian Bale plays Michael Burry, real life hedge fund supremo and heavy metal lover. Eccentric, his brain scorched by numbers and spreadsheets (the film is based on a book by Moneyball author Michael Lewis and it shows), Burry spots a flaw in the structure of the American housing market and, since nobody will take his findings seriously, he opts to invest in said market’s eventual collapse. “This is Wall Street Dr. Burry. If you offer us free money, we’re going to take it,” says one Goldman Sachs representative with glee in her heart and cash in her eyes.

Following an industry-driven family tragedy, Mark Baum has more emotional investment that anyone in Burry’s prediction. Coaxed on by a prowling vendetta against the world, Steve Carell is terrific in the role (there’s not a bum note generally, but Carell is the stand out). You really get the sense this is a guy who wholly detests the fraudulent system, and you feel a shared sense of injustice. However, Baum’s attempt to profit from the system’s downfall — and by proxy the plight of millions of innocent livelihoods — eats away at him, this internal struggle projected with weariness by Carell’s bruised eyes.

Ryan Gosling offers his two (million) cents as the sort of guy who practices catchy lines under his breath in preparation for important meetings — this sets up a hilarious money smelling quip. Gosling is financial trader Jared Vennett, a dick, but a dick with a point. Another Burry believer, he often breaks the fourth wall to explain what’s going on, funding his smarmy exterior in the process. The straight-to-camera dialogue works because the film is relentlessly preaching to us anyway. He and Baum work together but are opposing forces in personality terms: Baum amusingly no-sells Vennett’s macho demeanour while Vennett takes no notice, only interested in his rising bank balance.

Of the four headline names, Brad Pitt has the quietest role: Ben Rickert, having been chewed up and spat out by the banking industry, now abides by a pseudo-apocalyptic philosophy (“Seeds are gonna be the new currency”). Rickert is cajoled by understudies Charlie (John Magaro) and Jamie (Finn Whittrock) and subsequently returns to the field as their unshowy mentor, won over by Burry’s cataclysmic pattern. The presence of Pitt affords some weight to an arc that might have otherwise felt inconsequential given its unoriginal through line — it gets caught in the shadow of the other two, more prominent narrative strands.

McKay and co-writer Charles Randolph’s screenplay admirably juggles all of these hefty personalities, men collectively singing from the same ledger, without homogenising them. Nor does the script hold its protagonists to some sort of impenetrable moral standard — after all, irrespective of their true target, these guys are actively seeking to profit from the misfortune of both rich bankers and struggling Americans. McKay and Randolph frequently add layers to the plot, though when the film threatens to go beyond our intellectual comprehension it is saved by offbeat explanatory segments (chartered by the likes of Margot Robbie and Selena Gomez playing themselves).

It is abundantly clear who the villains are and the film knows that. But The Big Short also recognised the need to remind us of the primary culprits and does so by throwing around masses of Wall Street jargon, creating a divide between the folk who speak said language on a daily basis and everybody else. These are people who deviously undercut their customers and then guffaw about doing so in the safety of luxury afterwards — Max Greenfield and Billy Magnussen play the worst on-screen offenders, two mortgage brokers painted with broad strokes by necessity. They believe the joke is on everyone else when it’s obviously on them.

There are plenty of other jokes too, gags inspired by wit and executed with piercing zest (McKay and Randolph even manage to take a jab at artistic licence by openly owning up to small bouts of fabrication). This overarching smartness does alienate one small story section, namely the jarring appearance of a soon-to-be ailing homeowner. The film is too clever for something so blunt, especially given its tendency to avoid emotional manipulation elsewhere. You might argue the scene puts a face on the economic turmoil, but having lived through the crisis the audience will already be thoroughly aware of the consequences. It does at least serve up an eerie visual of a housing wasteland that evokes Chernobyl connotations.

Hank Corwin’s editing encourages a rampant effervescence that is more or less employed throughout; from an opening montage that outlines the inception of the disaster, to various images of music videos, celebrities, models, and cash spliced together — all symbols of corporate America, of the new American Dream sold by capitalism, a false dream. The choppiness can be a bit disorienting but it does induce urgency and even a degree of mess, fitting since it reflects the impending financial calamity.

As characters debate the legitimacy of Burry’s predictions the camera wanders freely between their faces, upholding both the kinetic energy of the fast-moving industry and said industry’s unpredictable nature. When all the desks have been cleared and all the cheques resentfully written, The Big Short unveils its prognosis: that those involved, the guilty bankers eventually given legal clearance, were either blindly stupid or corrupted by immorality. It is a sombre conclusion but one we always knew was coming. Having laughed a lot, you’ll leave angry — and you’re supposed to.

The Big Short - Steve Carell & Ryan Gosling

Images credit: IMP Awards, Collider

Images copyright (©): Paramount Pictures

Fury (2014)

★★★★

Fury PosterDirector: David Ayer

Release Date: October 17th, 2014 (US); October 22nd, 2014 (UK)

Genre: Action; Drama; War

Starring: Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman, Shia LaBeouf, Jon Bernthal, Michael Peña

War is a nasty business. Of course, contemplating the nastiness of war isn’t a new undertaking, nor is it something that Fury director David Ayer feels compelled to shirk away from. His film is really quite horrendous. We see limbless bodies and bodiless limbs more often than we see rays of sunlight breaking through the clouds of 1945 Nazi Germany. Ayer’s intimate tale isn’t a fresh concept to the silver screen and it has absolutely been done better before, but there is a lot to admire here.

As World War II nears its conclusion, a Sherman tank troupe commanded by US Army sergeant Don Collier (Brad Pitt) is hurtled into the bloody doldrums of battle in Germany. Fighting through urban wastelands and disfigured countrysides, the ‘Fury’ group of five must survive via a combination of camaraderie and brute force, all the while depositing innocence at each rotation of their vehicle’s caterpillar track.

Ayer localises a grand story and his film is all the better for it. Often, the key to success in the war genre is engaging an audience in the plight of a few whilst also acknowledging the struggle of many. Fury manages this, no doubt aided by a stringently focused narrative that follows a particular group of soldiers. It’s their story and we’re always in their presence, allowing time (well over two hours of it) for us to empathise with the characters. And while the camera never ventures more than a few feet from at least one of the five, Ayer’s induction of a heavy and wearisome tone relentlessly captures the universal toil of war.

These characters don’t write the guidelines on positive morality either. In fact, their contribution to the Allied war effort has flurried any goodness purveyed by Collier and his crew. They each have a nickname — fittingly Collier’s is Wardaddy. That is not to say the man heralds a thirst for battle, rather it highlights Wardaddy’s efficiency in dark turmoil. (“Do as you’re told, don’t get close to anyone”). Brad Pitt plays him without immediate discernibility, casting doubt not over the sergeant’s motives, but over his methods. Ayer’s quintessential heroes are nothing of the sort. There are no good guys, only perceived bad guys.

The remainder of the group bear roles that are more clearly defined: Technician Boyd “Bible” Swan is the devoted religious type; Corporal Trini “Gordo” Garcia steers the tank with eccentricity; PFC Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis lacks moderation; and Private Norman Ellison carries the newbie status, a kid lost amongst a conflict in which he shouldn’t be fighting. Logan Lerman exudes ordinariness as Norman, reminding us of war’s infecting bullet wounds on humanity. Walking Dead alumni Jon Bernthal is also terrific as the gruff Coon-Ass but it’s Shia LaBeouf who wows more than any other. Scrubbing the stigma of celebrity from his face and replacing it with rotten dirt, LaBeouf displays a great deal of restraint, his eyes never far from filling with tears fuelled by a scarred mind. It turns out he can act, and act well.

LaBeouf’s character is the agent through which Ayer introduces a religious thread, one that doesn’t wholly endear itself to the narrative but does contribute towards an emotive punch. These faith-based overtones aren’t distracting as they only rear occasionally, and despite manifesting as a tad contrived, they do represent an attempt to manoeuvre proceedings away from any potential muscle bound machoness of battle. Indeed, the film manages to extract a large helping of connectivity from the audience through solemnity, a theme that runs along the piece like one of Nazi Germany’s seemingly endless mud trails. This helpless sobriety is first summed up in statement relayed by Jason Isaacs’ army Captain (“Why don’t they just quit?”), before revealing itself plainly in an extended Inglorious Basterds-esque dining room scene rightly devoid of any Tarantino quirk.

After 90 minutes of gruesome despair, the outing suddenly shifts its gaze in the direction of a more action-packed conclusion. The final act essentially wears the hallmark of a western standoff, trading cowboy hats for leather helmets. Granted in its final half hour Fury still maintains a gritty realism but this divergence in tone might not appease all. Tank jousts do occur before the lengthy concluding sequence, but frequently end in a matter of minutes. These battles are arduous in their execution, just as they should be, and do not glorify the mechanical face of war at all, whereas it could be argued that the long, underdog-ish rallying cry denoted in the final act does invite a semblance of glorification.

Technically, the film is a powerhouse. Cinematographer Roman Vasyanov turns the English countryside (where shooting primarily took place) into a bleak, putrefying Nazi Germany at the end of its tether. Two scenes stand out especially: a beautiful opening shot that patiently stalks a lone horseman as he tramples over smoky ruins and comes face to face with the fragility of tanks, and a dread filled moment nearer the end that involves a collection of simultaneously marching and chanting enemy troops. This uncompromising style meshes wonderfully with Steven Price’s score and pinpoint sound editing, and comes as close as any film to achieving the fist-clenching ambience of Saving Private Ryan.

It is certainly not as good as Spielberg’s aforementioned masterpiece, but not many outings born from this particular genre are. Fury is a visceral and effective retelling of war at its most desperate and least forgiving. If nothing else, it’s an example of high standard utility filmmaking.

Fury - Cast

Images credit: IMP Awards, Collider

Images copyright (©): Columbia Pictures

12 Years a Slave (2014)

★★★★★

Director: Steve McQueen

Release Date: November 8th, 2013 (US); January 10th, 2014 (UK)

Genre: Biography; Drama; History

Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o

“I will not fall into despair till freedom is opportune!”

Those purposeful words, you will have heard over the last few months in trailers, adverts and previews. They are strong-willed; in one sense uplifting, yet in another more visceral sense, haunted by humanity’s most evil endeavours. Despair and freedom, traits inversely diverging in the life, rather, the existence of Solomon Norfolk. Steve McQueen challenges us to consider and then reconsider as his depiction of the animalistic slave trade hammers with shock, but does not rely on it. For the most part, the moments of solitude and silence profoundly exhibit a monstrous reality lived by those such as the remorseless slave owner Edwin Epps. There are no punches pulled, no whippings recoiled; McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave is a harrowing watch without question. More than that though, it is a necessary watch. Not to reassure a cultural ridding that hasn’t fully been expunged. Rather, to condemn what should never have occurred, and to shed a flicker of true resilience on a truly despicable time.

A well-off and considerate skilled carpenter, Solomon Norfolk (Chiwetel Ejiofor) tends to the every need of his young family. It’s 1841 and the slave trade is rife with wealthy disregard. Approached by two not noticeably iffy gentlemen, Solomon — a fiddle player at heart — is offered an extended musical job, an offer greeted with appreciative acceptance. After a drunken night, he awakens in chains, stripped of his identity and mercilessly pawned. 12 Years a Slave tells Solomon’s harrowing story, as he is traded from a would-be sympathetic slave owner (that is, if such a juxtaposition exists) to the vile, despicable Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender) who has abomination clenched in his fists and the abyss peering through his eyes.

This is an intense watch, no doubt. Not necessarily because it’s another retelling of a horrible time — though that alone warrants attention and denouncing. Rather, it comes down to how Steve McQueen unflinchingly tells the story. His directorial application is admirable in that no disservice is done to those who fell victim to slavery, this isn’t in any remote sense a Hollywood-esque drama bloated full of riveting set pieces or manipulative tones. Nor is it buoyed by a somewhat ironic, semi-exploitative raft akin to that of Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, a cinematic spectacle in every sense. 12 Years a Slave is real life, a reflection of events not so long gone. You may judge success on ticket sales, or audience reception, or even personal affirmation, but there’s also a genuine feeling abound that McQueen’s priorities are and would always have been aligned alongside authentic storytelling regardless. His straightforward devotion to re-imagining the unimaginable is admirable, and it’s this wholeheartedness that enables the viewer to watch with an only just an ounce of ease, but an ounce nonetheless.

From the point of his wrongful capture, Solomon wrestles with a tragic dignity-driven dilemma: does he succumb to hate to become bastion of support for his helpless compatriots already grappled by despair, or does he stoutly, fearlessly stare directly into the heartlessness of one of humanity’s worst episodes? Initially, Solomon is disbelieving, perhaps as much of slavery’s existence as of his own forced manoeuvre into it. “They were not kidnappers, they were artists… fellow performers,” he wrongly assures, detailing those absolutely iffy gentlemen. Maybe if he can convince someone, anyone, they’ll see sense. But there is no sense, not in the racist pits of Southern USA. Everywhere Solomon glances there is a monster in human skin. The slave-trader, auctioning off people like watches (“My sentimentality stretches the length of a coin”). The plantation owner, who treats his slaves fairly well — but to treat a slave well would be to treat a slave as a human, not an object, therefore not to treat a slave at all. His empathy is misguided. The hired carpenter, a white pre-Nazi figure teaming with abhorrent spew. Yet through these early trials, Solomon remains resilient and hopeful — freedom is still vaguely in sight.

Wholly, 12 Years a Slave is mighty, but a number of moments stand out in their contrasting potency. As a twenty-first century audience, we’ve sponged it all, and have resultantly become immune to most atrocities displayed in film or any other art-form. There’s something to be said, then, for an act of depicted violence that leaves you mouth gaping, eyes watering and mind searching. In a sickening whipping display not far removed from The Passion of the Christ, the film emphatically compounds its horrors. Yet it remains realistic, and that rankles the stomach. Conversely, a scene of isolation is striking. Surrounded by an audibly hissing nature, pupils dark and eclipsing, Solomon slowly stares right and left before catching the camera’s lens. Profound, absolutely. Painful, worryingly. You wonder whether Solomon has approached the point of no return, the despair, and assume thereafter that he has seen no end. It’s an extraordinary piece of filmmaking, perhaps the most poignant all both in delivery and meaning.

Chiwetel Ejiofor’s depiction of Solomon is utterly remarkable. He is defiant in hope, upsetting in pain and compelling throughout, embodying this range in absolute earnest. The role is a difficult one; Ejiofor must reign in grief and disperse it invariably at the correct moments, or risk devaluing the man. At the same time, Solomon’s sympathetic nature cannot restrain, and instead Ejiofor has to symbolise at least partial hope where there is none. Ejiofor masterfully accomplishes all of this, and more — every strained note from his mouth rings with plea, and his eyes bulge with emotion. As diabolical slave-owner Edwin Epps, Michael Fassbender demonstrably bewitches himself in a spell of pure evil. At one point Epps falls flat on his face, yet you cannot muster up the slightest node of joy because it’s obvious that his repulsive mindset enjoyed the discomfort.

Newcomer Lupita Nyong’o is also incredible. She plays Patsey, a young female slave whom Epps fantasies over and hates himself for it. Nyong’o displays an air of vulnerability, whilst at the same time commanding the screen with her undeniably astute presence. Paul Giamatti has a minor role as the aforementioned slave-trader, excelling in cruelty, the same uncaring sensibility as Paul Dano, the aforementioned hired carpenter. Brad Pitt oddly appears as a different carpenter, Amish beard and all. His random arrival is slightly off-putting, though the co-producer of the film (ah, that’s why) is solid enough. Benedict Cumberbatch is William Ford, the empathetic plantation owner whose sentences begin with an English accent and end in a southern drawl. Having said that, Cumberbatch is an excellent choice to play the role, that much-loved real life personality giving the character some small semblance of decency.

Sean Bobbitt’s cinematography is exquisite, offering a pristine vehicle for the film to vibrantly beam out of. A contagious scent of excellence must’ve attached itself to each component on set, and Hans Zimmer’s score is no different. Moving and soaring, Zimmer’s orchestral harmonies wrap around events on screen as if to comfort the forsaken humans. This contrasts with the weighty Roll Jordan Roll, a roar of solidarity that you don’t want Solomon to contribute to for fear of his own confirmation of plight.

If not the best film of the year, 12 Years a Slave is certainly the most important and probably the least comfortable to watch. Steve McQueen powerfully unravels a horrific period lived mercilessly by those far wickeder than any revised history suggests, and endured harrowingly by those whose suffering is unrelenting in its depiction. It’s stark and honest, so much so that you’ll exit the cinema, mind image-strewn, wishing the film never had to be made.

World War Z (2013)

★★★

Director: Marc Forster

Release Date: June 21st, 2013 (UK and US)

Genre: Action; Adventure; Horror

Starring: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos

As Brad Pitt’s UN investigator Gerry Lane swoops over the city of Jerusalem encased in an enormous fortified wall, you are reminded of all that is wrong with World War Z. There’s a lingering generic-ism abound, one that stockily lumbers around without promise nor priority. When Drew Goddard, Damon Lindelof, Matthew Michael Carnahan and whoever else’s script this is attempts to overcome these commonalities, the film struggles to successfully juggle its grandiose ideas and instead is blighted by one or two gaping plot holes. Yet, before Gerry’s helicopter settles on the dusty plains below, you’re also privy to World War Z’s great elements. The magnificent visual landscapes on show. A sense of urgency that not only ensures problems are swiftly left hanging far behind, but also relents in tandem with the film’s menacing creatures. And also Brad Pitt himself, whose screen presence is a welcome, wholly capable one supported robustly by Mireille Enos. Occasionally frustrating, often energetic; World War Z ain’t all that bad actually.

Having allayed his United Nations requisites in order to spend quality time with his family, a commute-turned-zombie attack must be the last thing on Gerry Lane’s (Brad Pitt) mind as he drives his wife Karin (Mireille Enos) and two daughters through a busy Philadelphia street. You get the sense he misses his old investigative job though, therefore it’s unsurprising that Gerry is speedily roped back into a life of danger and heroism, recruited by UN Deputy Secretary-General Thierry Umutoni (Fana Mokoena) to find the origins of the harrowing virus. Where did it come from? How can it be harnessed? These are apt, important questions demanding rapid answers in the narrative context, but questions that don’t quite elevate the film to any significant height.

World War Z, then, suffers two-fold. One on hand its familiar formula reeks of a sterility, whilst characters and plot advancements are constrained by the formalities of the pandemic sub-genre. Instantly, the screen reels off a variety of intertwined media, life, death, disease images in a montage designed to propel the likelihood of ecological threat in a shrinking world. It’s quite clichéd, but just about works as a warning (or confirmation) detailing the film you’re about to watch. Then a hair-strewn Brad Pitt appears, assuring his daughter that he’s done with the ‘leaving home’ business and is now employed solely in the confines of his own four walls — of course those busy, reminiscing eyes say something a little different. And after five minutes, you know exactly what you’re going to get: a rampant, solid action flick. This isn’t necessarily a negative, a ‘rampant, solid action flick’ will often conveniently fill up a few hours. What works, works, right? At times though, there’s an inherent over-predictability that, shuffled in lesser hands, could be construed as laziness (a taped arm will probably get bitten; a family left behind will more than likely come off worse for wear; a semi-retired family man will leave loved ones in the time of need).

These oh-so-common nuances do not affirm laziness though, because it’s evident that the conglomerate of director Marc Forster, actors and writers do care about the film they’re unstably constructing. Here’s the second problem then. In caring, and in striving to cast aside generic formulae, the film unwittingly jumps around, up, down and all over. Big surface ideas fall foul of gaping discrepancies, and there isn’t really a specific overarching tone, rather a number of intermittent murmurings. As a tormented, abrasive group of zombie-humans trample through the streets of Jerusalem, you’re watching (and probably enjoying) that ‘rampant, solid action flick’. But later, when Doctor Who appears and, stopping short at TARDIS-ing back in time, signals an atmospheric switch to one attempting Danny Boyle-esque tension. That’s not forgetting the splatterings of humour (the “Mother Nature is a serial killer” diatribe is oddly built on comic undertones) and misplaced masculine camaraderie throughout. Individually these tonal constructs are more hit than miss, but collectively the mishmash is a tad sloppy.

There’s also a significant plot-contrivance that perhaps stems from this rewrite plague that the film suffers from. The whole of Jerusalem is surrounded and protected by a gigantic wall, the idea being that Israeli officials were aware of the forthcoming viral attack and therefore planned ahead. The reason we are given explaining their premature knowledge is that these officials worked on the basis of a ’10th Man’ theory — where the assumption is that this 10th man (of a consistent group of 10, obviously) would always disagree with every unanimous decision agreed upon by the other nine, and then work to prevent the seemingly unpredictable. Essentially, this time the 10th man came across the virus, and that’s how Israel was alerted early. The issue then is, firstly, are we to believe that this earth-shattering discovery was successfully kept secret from the rest of the world? Secondly, if the 10th man always goes against the grain harvested by the other nine, wouldn’t his subsequent research always uncover (and thus prevent) past tragedies, therefore no global, human-based, disaster would ever have happened? Come on.

I digress. This is not a bad film, it’s only because the plot could’ve been tighter and the tone could’ve been structured and therefore the film could’ve been far better, that its weaknesses divulge frustration. For it looks incredible. Each visual is well-developed and astutely executed. In particular, there’s a tidal wave attack scene that’s ominous, turbulent and exceedingly well done. There’s also a sizeable amount of looking down at burnt, destroyed cities going on, although the terrific special effects anoint this a positive rather than a negative trait. And all of the fast-paced, energetic actions sequences deliver. In fact, Forster makes a point to move away from the early stereotypical set-up by quickly flashing the aforementioned disaster-threatening montage and then driving head-first into a bellowing helping of action.

These popcorn scenes do provide the majority of the film’s strengths, however on a few occasions there is a sense that Forster et al are striving to do more with the morality of said pandemic. A dancing moral stance that could’ve gone further, but one that flickers intelligently ever so often. This virus has spread worldwide, but what happens to civilizations in areas without sufficient protection, areas not ready and alert in their security measures? At one point we’re told “[it’s] pretty obvious nobody back home read it” in response to questioning over an email that circulated eleven days prior with the word “zombie” embedded. Is this a thinly veiled reference towards prior real-life mistreatment of threatening politically-bound documents? And are these creatures really zombies, or affected, compromised humans? They still wear human features, only now are assisted by growling eyes.

In an interview, Brad Pitt recalled his reasoning for seeking out the source material (of which his production company Plan B Entertainment secured the screen rights to). Effectively, something for his younger sons to watch and enjoy — apparently they like zombies. World War Z suffers from a number of faults, but it also boasts a few excellent aspects too and, at the end of the day, has been made with good intentions.

Hey, I’ll have whatever Brad Pitt’s children are having.

The Counsellor (Out November 15th, 2013)

A new image released by Entertainment Weekly.
A new image released by Entertainment Weekly.

Talk about star power.

I have no idea how I managed to miss this one when it was announced. The Counsellor is an upcoming thriller film about a lawyer who gets embroiled in the world of drug trafficking, perhaps a little further than he had hoped, and is set to be released on October 25th in the United States and on November 15th here in the United Kingdom. It sounds like your average crime drama, right? Well, check this out.

The film will be directed by none other than Ridley Scott (who recently enlightened our minds with Prometheus), a man who consistently blends out good to exceptional films and whose dedication to perfecting the visual element of his work is second-to-none. Spanning five decades, his directorial career has cultivated films such as Alien (1970s), Blade Runner (1980s), Thelma & Louise (1990s), Gladiator (2000s) and Prometheus (2010s), as mentioned beforehand, and it does not seem to be slowing down at any rate, with Scott having released almost one film per year since 2000. In my eyes, Scott is one of a handful of directors who the audience can put their wholehearted faith in to create a hugely enjoyable and commercially successful film, in any situation.

The cast of The Counsellor is composed of Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Cameron Diaz, Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem (need I go on?). Fassbender, who will play the lead character, has been on career ascension like no other since appearing in Hunger in 2008 and then Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds a year later, both of which he received mass amounts of praise for his performances in. It does not get much bigger than Brad Pitt when it comes to names in the film industry (or any industry, for that matter), and Cameron Diaz and Penelope Cruz are two very accomplished actors (or actresses, whichever you prefer) who can more than hold their own in just about any film. Javier Bardem has just come off a BAFTA nominated performance for his portrayal of Bond villain Raoul Silva in Skyfall, and it is apparent that has been churning out excellent performance after excellent performance in recent years.

“Is this Transformers?”

The screenplay of The Counsellor has been written by none other than Cormac McCarthy, the author of novels such as the brooding No Country for Old Men and the heart-wrenching The Road (which have been adapted into Academy Award winning and critically successful films, respectively). Even though this will be McCarthy’s first feature-length screenplay, it is obvious that he has a knack for penning exceptionally good literature and it will be intriguing to see how his screenplay comes across directly on film.

The first trailer for The Counsellor has just been released and, although 44 seconds is a hardly a significant amount of time to be making too many judgements on, the film comes across as everything from gritty to slick to atmospheric to precise. It also sounds majestic. Of course, visually it appears a Ridley Scott film as the visuals are, for lack of a better description, ‘top notch’, and we get a brief glimpse of some of the characters involved — Bardem looks like he could be a show stealer in this department. As I just mentioned, this is only a short trailer and therefore it is likely that the full-length one will be made available in the coming months, by which time we will hopefully know a little more about Scott’s next cinematic outing. But for now, check out the short trailer below. And in answer to my somewhat rhetorical question at the beginning: No, not really — in fact, not at all.

Talk about star power.