"Counselor" Review

While it may be the easiest way for a filmmaker to produce a project, telling a story that takes place in one environment is also the hardest task. Harold Jackson III has proven that he can conquer the big screen with his film “Last Night”. With his latest production, he attempts to conquer the small screen with his webseries entitled “Counselor”. Fortunately, the single location series is a slow brew story with just the right mixture of drama that you will quickly consume on your laptop or smartphone!

The series is pretty straight forward. It takes place over the course of 8 treatment sessions between Dr. Venazen (Curtiss Cook) and his patient David (Chad Eric Smith). The stakes are simple, David has to complete his sessions as a part of a DUI ruling or go to jail. The complexities that come in to play are the issues in both character’s lives and how they surface during the sessions.

What makes the series move is the give and take in answers between the characters in probing questions about one another, and sometimes the lack there of. The everyday mundane debates over things like the Huxtables, lifestyle choices, or metaphorical coffee are natural, comical intermissions between deeper conversations. With each treatment, new issues arise in each character that build the story and ultimately their relationship. 

At its best, “Counselor” explores two men being honest about their lives while sharing in one another’s journey over the course of time. They both recognize the good in one another, while also seeing their faults. Cook is absolutely polarizing as the good doctor. His extreme control and level headedness makes for gripping drama when his layers are pulled back. Smith executes a constant sense of uneasiness pervading through his character, conveying a troubled life and track record of mistrust. The yin and yang of each character works together for good on screen chemistry between the talented actors who bring the story to life.

The series is a good example of how occasionally wearing multiple hats on a project can be a good thing. Serving as writer, director, producer and editor, Jackson manipulates the audience with his use of the frame and knowledge of the story. The rhythm of the edit perfectly keeps the story going, allows us to forget we’re in the same location, and instead focus on the dialogue. Keeping us on edge like the characters, Jackson uses the occasional dutch angle to subtly suggest the off kilter emotional state of the doctor or David. He lines his characters on the edge of the frame with no lead room to suffocate them in tense moments, or crowds the foreground with an object to force our perspective on his character similarly. Jackson’s technical proficiency supplements the overall story well.

I watched “Counselor” twice in one day in order to write this review and caught more nuances during the second viewing. The series is not necessarily a page turner (or web clicker?) in the sense of “what’s gonna happen next?”, but it is very successful in building its characters and making you care for them. The last installment in the series ties a bow a little too neatly, but for a single location shoot, “Counselor” certainly succeeds on an entertainment level. It should be inspiring for indie filmmakers while solidifying Jackson’s track record as a quality filmmaker!

"Counselor" will be released on YouTube Feb. 17th!

Rating: B+

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Kevin Sampson

The fact that Kevin Sampson is not just a film critic, but a writer, producer, and director as well makes his understanding of cinema even better. Coming from a theoretical and hands on approach, he understands both sides of the struggle of viewing and creating great works. After receiving an MFA in Film & Electronic Media from American University in Washington, D.C in 2011, Kevin took his love for film to the next level by creating and producing Picture Lock, an entertainment website, podcast, and hour long film review TV show that runs on Arlington Independent Media’s public access station in Arlington, VA. The show covers new releases, classic films, and interviews with local filmmakers in the DMV area. He is also a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association and African American Film Critics Association. He is currently looking forward to filming his first feature film in the near future. He believes that film is one of the most powerful art forms in the world, and he hopes that he can use the craft to inspire others and make a difference in it.