It's kind of funny, because I haven't even seen The Counselor yet, and chances are I won't see it for a while, but its failure at the box office (and with critics) was something I felt I needed to acknowledge here.
And basically, at least as far as the audience goes, I think it failed because of a crummy trailer:
I'm not even sure that's exact one I'm thinking of, but basically the whole marketing department seems to have assumed far too much about the movie's appeal. One of the assumptions was that Ridley Scott as a name sold itself. His last movie was Prometheus. Except he's a director who does something completely different with each project, and doesn't seem to have developed a strong following despite years of exceptional work. Then there's Cormac McCarthy, best known as the author of a bunch of books (All the Pretty Horses, No Country for Old Men, The Road) that were later made into movies, working on his first original screenplay. But audiences don't like filmmakers as much as they like blockbusters, "event" movies, especially these days. And there's the poor, incomprehensible editing, which itself seems to have been done because it was assumed that either the director or the screenwriter would have sold this project already (which they didn't), or that perhaps the notoriety of that one Cameron Diaz scene (on the hood of the car) was already infamous enough (it wasn't).
The Counselor, even more incredibly, failed at a time when the fall season saw an exceptional demand for more adult material. Theoretically audiences were primed, especially for a project that came prepackaged with a certain amount of prestige. But a story that doesn't explain itself and a bad trailer can be deadly. Although I don't agree, that was always the charge leveled against John Carter to explain its own box office failure:
If the audience doesn't understand what you're trying to sell, if they're not on the same page, then you are probably in for trouble.
An example of a perfect trailer would be for Where the Wild Things Are:
(Although that one's so awesome it set up probably unreasonable expectations for someone like me.)
The Counselor's pedigree still intrigues me, a great deal, but that's someone like me, who can be sold on things like directors, screenwriters, even a slambang cast. But not everyone's like that. Critics turned against it, because they're like that, once they realized it wasn't going to be a phenomenon. They assumed it would be a triumph for McCarthy, an apparent cultural institution, the adult's version of all those fuzzy franchises that dominated summer and then came back again in the late fall. They were wrong, and didn't even care to admit it. Instead they seemed to cop their response from the miserable trailer.
In this instance, I'm perhaps asking you to give this movie another shot. Approach it with an entirely open mind if you have to. I haven't seen Killing Them Softly yet, either, but it strikes me as a similar case, a movie that should have at least developed a cult following (whether because of director Andrew Dominik or actor Brad Pitt). Actually, let me mention at least one movie I've seen that may be comparable to it: Warrior, Tom Hardy's best movie to date. The critics didn't mind lauding that one, although silently. It was ignored at awards season. But it deserved then and deserves now a far greater audience. Give that one a shot. Give this one a shot. Give Killing Them Softly a shot!
Because although recent months have proven that audiences still care about adult material, it never hurts to support even the apparent failures.