Posted by Ken Burke On November - 1 - 2013 0 Comment

In 1948 John Huston directed one of the film noir classics, Key Largo, in which a renegade mobster, Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson), and his gang are holed up in a remote Florida hotel during a hurricane, holding a group of hostages until more hoods arrive to escort Rocco out of the storm.  A conversation ensues between Rocco and the hotel owner, James Temple (Lionel Barrymore), over what it is that the gangster wants, as he’s defied deportation to once again impose his criminal presence upon our country.  One of the other hostages, cynical ex-Army officer Frank McCloud (Humphrey Bogart), answers for Rocco, saying that he wants “more.”  Rocco agrees, noting that he’s never had enough and probably never will.  Ultimately, what he gets is death when Major McCloud finally shakes off his lethargy and takes Rocco down, but this desire for “more” stays with us today, both in our market-driven society and in films that feature the unnecessary desire to improve on already-substantial acquisitions, as in The Counselor, directed by Ridley Scott with a grim screenplay by buzz-kill enthusiast Cormac McCarthy.  In this contemporary story of brutal crime, the titular El Paso lawyer (we never get a name for him), played by Michael Fassbender, already has enough material substance to afford a 3.9 carat diamond for the engagement ring presented to girlfriend Laura (Penélope Cruz), yet he feels compelled to concoct a cocaine-smuggling scheme with accomplices Reiner (Javier Bardem) and Westray (Brad Pitt) that offers a multi-million dollar payoff but is fraught with danger from a competing cartel, a situation that ultimately ends many lives, some by brutal decapitation.

So, the question of the week here is:  What compels us—any of us, no matter how decent and restrained we might normally be—to this burning desire for “more”?  Why do we set aside our rational limits in the hopes of a big payday, even though the situation is set up from the start to bring us almost certain ruin, whether it’s in the context of a major operation within an amoral underworld such as what we see in The Counselor (or at least what a few of us have seen in this film; general critical reception and box-office response have been mostly negative so far, possibly leaving you to contemplate my questions in the abstract rather than after a screening—although you’re welcome to explore my more-positive review of The Counselor) or just a private bout of unaffordable over-extension such as betting far too much at a card table or racetrack.  Gordon Gekko tells us in Wall Street (1987) that “Greed is good,” but even he must face the consequences of overreach, which finally turns his priorities around in the sequel Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010).  Yet, how many of us when obsessed with the anticipated big payday can find absolution from our dangerous desires, as does Gekko, and—more importantly—is it just greed that’s driving us in the first place or something more sinisterly Freudian in our collective troubled subconscious?  Your thoughts on this here, at my blog site, or at the LinkedIn Film Addicts group discussions are welcome, as always.

Counselor 1

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