Okay, how many dramas and thrillers featuring a lawyer as the main character have we had? Heck, how many novels featuring lawyers have been thrust at us? After all the books written by John Grisham and Scott Turow, you’d think the world would have had enough of legal thrillers whether or not they made it to the silver screen. It all reminds me of that joke we’ve all heard:
“What do you call a thousand lawyers at the bottom of the ocean?”
“A good start!”
As a result, I was in no immediate hurry to check out the latest legal thriller adapted to film, “The Lincoln Lawyer.” It’s about a defense lawyer who has no scruples about what he does, but he ends up getting involved in a case that haunts his conscience like no other. Looking that over, it sounds like “Primal Fear” all over again. How many times have we been down this road?
But alas, while “The Lincoln Lawyer” breaks no new ground, it has many clever twists up its sleeve that distinguishes it from others of its ilk. It is based on the novel of the same name by Michael Connelly who is best known for writing detective novels and crime fiction. One of his previous books, “Blood Work,” was turned into a movie by Clint Eastwood, and it is one of the very few movies that Clint has done recently that actually sucked. It turns out that “The Lincoln Lawyer” though was actually his first legal novel, and introduced the world to one of his most popular characters, Mickey Haller.
Mickey Haller is a criminal defense attorney who spends his time defending the kind of people we would all rather see behind bars. Instead of a regular office, he works out of his Lincoln Town Car which he gets driven around in by Earl (Laurence Mason), a former client of his who is working off legal fees he owes. He has an ex-wife, Margaret McPherson (Marisa Tomei), whom he is still on good terms with even though she works on the opposite side of the court as a prosecutor. They have a daughter whom they both dote on, and you at times wonder why these two even bothered to divorce. If James Carville and Mary Matlin can maintain a marriage, why can’t these two?
Anyway, Mickey ends up defending Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe), a Beverly Hills realtor who is accused of viciously assaulting a prostitute. The case, after some research, looks to be an open and shut deal for this ever so confident lawyer. However, more problems arise to where things are not always as they appear to be.
That’s all I’m going to say about the plot. To say anymore would be to give away a good deal of what happens. What I will say is that it makes for a good story in how someone has to find a way to find justice without losing their job forever as a result.
Much of the success of “The Lincoln Lawyer” belongs to the actor chosen to play Mickey, Matthew McConaughey. After seeing him in so many useless romantic comedies, he gets one of his best roles to date here. Believe me when I say that he is perfectly cast in this role, and he nails Haller’s sly confidence and cocky demeanor as he works his way through the courtroom to get what he wants and needs. Mickey is to an extent an amoral character, one who appears to care less about whether or not those he represents will commit crimes again after he gets them off. But McConaughey is so cool here that we find it impossible to hate him, and we love his (if you’ll forgive the expression) “rico suave” ways around everyone he meets. Whether or not you agree with what he does, we all would love to have his coolness and persuasiveness of character.
It also helps that Matthew is surrounded by a great cast of actors who gives him plenty to work with. Marisa Tomei remains as terrific and super sexy as Haller’s ex-wife, and she shares strong chemistry with McConaughey throughout. We also get an entertaining turn from the always dependable William H. Macy as investigator Frank Levin, Haller’s right hand man in getting the facts be it legally or illegally. We also get strong turns from John Leguizamo, Michael Peña, and Frances Fisher who bring their A game to the plate.
But one performance I want to point out is the one from Ryan Phillippe. As this Beverly Hills playboy who has had everything handed to him on a silver platter, he excels in convincing everyone around and the audience of his character’s intentions. Still, there is that glimmer in his eyes that suggests not everything he says or implies is on the level. Ryan has been better known these past few years as Mr. Reese Witherspoon, but however things went down in that relationship, he deserves to be noted for his acting here and other movies he has been in. Watching him onscreen here is riveting because he always leaves you guessing as to what will happen next.
Directing “The Lincoln Lawyer” is Brad Furman, and the only movie he directed previous to this one is “The Take.” I really liked how vividly he captured the urban environment of Los Angeles, and it never felt like he was filming on some ordinary Hollywood set. With a story like this, Brad could have easily gone in that direction, but he gives each scene a solid reality that doesn’t feel far from the one we inhabit. He also keeps the suspense up throughout and gives us some tension filled scenes that keep us at full attention as if someone is about to come from behind us and bash our brains in.
Like I said, “The Lincoln Lawyer” does not break any new ground in the legal movie genre, but it reinvigorates it with a strong and enigmatic main character and a story that twists in ways we haven’t seen recently or in a long time. In a way, this movie brings Matthew McConaughey around full circle as he made his big breakthrough in the film adaptation of John Grisham’s “A Time To Kill.” Soon or later, this man who says to just “keep on livin’” had to play another lawyer. I hope for his sake that he gets to do a follow up to this one as he has this character down flat. Maybe others could have done it better, but who comes to mind as quickly as Matthew?
* * * out of * * * *