There are the grand emotional courtroom dramas that immerse you in the ethical dilemmas that stem from from the case itself, filled with quotable speeches from venerable actors; then there’s “The Lincoln Lawyer” starring Matthew McConaughey. Based on the Michael Connelly novel, the film plays more like a crime thriller set in the legal realm, one that intends to be equal parts slick and ethically challenging. Rather than an honorable protagonist who must do the right thing in the face of great adversity to combat a corrupt justice system, Mick Haller is an alcoholic with a moral compass that would make your intestines curl.
“The Lincoln Lawyer” embraces the idea that the legal system is an open air-market where deals are cut left and right “justice” is nothing more than a word that keeps it from crumbling. Mick Haller puts bad guys on the street and makes a living off the legal fees of some of the scummier creatures in Los Angeles, but he’s also seen his fair share of state prosecutors using big hammer on a tiny nail — that’s just how it goes. However, there comes a time when every person’s true moral character is tested.
Haller finds himself in a tough spot when he agrees to defend a wealthy real estate agent name Louis Roulet (Ryan Philippe) who’s been charged with assaulting and raping a prostitute. If he’s telling the truth, the case seems pretty open-and-close, but he’s hiding a few secrets that twist the case in unimaginable ways.
Although terrific talent lines this film inside and out, the acting merely helps bolster the impressiveness of the gripping story. Director Brad Furman has paced the film perfectly with the exception of the last 15 minutes; there are essentially no dull moments. Solid legal thrillers can wrap around your brain with the slightest of ease (why else would “Law & Order” still be on television?), but the true challenge lies in telling a unique story. No rival comes to mind to Haller’s ethical quandary.
McConaughey’s swagger makes him perfect for a sleazy lawyer, but the emotionally troubled alcoholic side of the character — the part that can’t sleep at night — doesn’t lie outside of his acting boundaries. Although neither the script nor the direction ever tests him for too long in this regard, he embodies the role to the point that it does add something to the film. In my experience, McConaughey’s never been better.
Actors such as William H. Macy, a still-underrated Ryan Phillippe, Marisa Tomei, Josh Lucas, John Leguizamo and Bryan Cranston all provide excellent fits and stud out the cast, but the stars remain the thrills of the story and Furman’s superb pacing.
The film’s ethical dilemmas and insights provide for some relatively strong chewing, but but “Lincoln Lawyer” rides suspense and engaging dialogue like a Lincoln Town Car into the sunset.
The Lincoln Lawyer
Directed by Brad Furman
Written by John Romano, Michael Connelly (novel)
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Ryan Phillippe, Marisa Tomei, William H. Macy