As a lawyer who’s a half-step away from being a scam artist, Matthew McConaughey’s character works every angle for his clients in The Lincoln Lawyer, just as McConaughey works every scene in this legal thriller. There’s nothing ambitious about it, but this sleek, commercial suspense movie is much more engaging than I expected it to be.
Of course I didn’t expect much. For weeks before it arrived I had to keep reminding myself that this is not the film about the woman accused of collaborating with John Wilkes Booth (that’s Robert Redford’s The Conspirator), that it has nothing to do with movies in the works like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter or Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln biopic. This is the one about a lawyer who works out of his Lincoln Continental, and it didn’t sound promising even if it was based on a book by respected crime novelist Michael Connelly.
But the first-rate cast carries you with it at every twist, and there are plenty. McConaughey is Mick Haller, accustomed to low-life clients until he is suddenly brought in to defend Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe) a very rich kid accused of beating a woman nearly to death. Phillippe makes Roulet’s innocence completely believable until complications and evidence begin to make everyone doubt him, especially his own lawyer. Why was he hired anyway? Who’s manipulating whom?
Along the way, McConaughey and Phillippe are bolstered by terrific actors in smaller roles. William H. Macy (looking like a sober version of his long-haired character from Shameless) plays Mick’s investigator; he makes the character alive even though he’s saddled with lines meant to explain things to the audience, like “You can’t bring it to the cops 'cause he’s your client...” That is good acting. John Leguizamo plays a sleazy bail bondsman who gets Mick involved with Roulet, and Marisa Tomei is Mick’s ex-wife, an attorney in the prosecutor’s office. They share a small daughter and the occasional night in bed.
The Lincoln Lawyer is smooth enough so the few bumps are conspicuous when they turn up in John Romano’s screenplay (those clunky explanations) and Brad Furman’s direction. Does the camera have to swirl 360 degrees when Mick addresses the jury, as if we couldn’t sit still for three minutes? It doesn’t even suit the straightforward style of the rest of the film.
It’s no surprise that although Mick cuts corners to get his sleazy clients off, he is at heart a decent guy who believes in justice and is devoted to his family. But McConaughey adds his extra dash of roguish charm – it may be his best role since he played another lawyer in A Time To Kill - so we’re totally behind this unlikely hero who’s chauffeured around in a not-new Lincoln with the license plates NTGUILTY.
Here's the trailer. Except for Mick's scene with his daughter at the start (that's not in the film) it captures the movie's tone pretty well.