The Lincoln Lawyer
Directed by Brad Furman
Screenplay by John Romano
Based on a novel by Michael Connelly
Matthew McConaughey as Mick Haller
Marisa Tomei as Maggie McPherson
Ryan Phillippe as Louis Roulet
William H. Macy as Frank Levin
Running time: 119 minutes
Motion Picture Rating: Rated R for some violence, sexual content and language.
Shall he not summon twelve legions of bikers?
Michael Connelly is a very popular author, but it is easy to dismiss a film adapted from an airport bestseller, sight unseen. In this case, it would be most unfair. The Lincoln Lawyer spins a tangled and entertaining yarn about a maverick lawyer who knows how to get tough when he needs to. The movie adaptation by Brad Furman is nicely paced and well put together. As a fairly straightforward mystery/thriller it may fail to achieve lasting acclaim, but it is well worth a couple of hours’ diversion.
Mickey Haller (Matthew McConaughey) is a smooth-talking criminal defense attorney, whose “thing” is conducting business out of his slick black Lincoln, which is constantly on the move through the streets of Los Angeles. In addition, he is a very sly fellow willing to pull an unscrupulous string or two in order to keep his reputation notorious and high-profile. He deals with every questionable walk of life, most notably a gang of bikers who appear at intervals to trade pleasantries and occasional favors with him. Does anybody suspect that this stone-cold stud is headed for a massive reality check?
Basically, the big bad lawyer takes on “just another case,” which turns out to be a lot deeper and uglier than it looks. By the time he has decided he may not want it, personal stakes have arisen that prevent his backing out. In order to save face (and possibly his life), he must forge ahead, outwit the forces setting him up for a fall, and even fight a little dirty for all the right reasons. It is a familiar yarn, but when properly executed a consistently entertaining one.
One petty gripe has dogged me since I first saw previews for this film. Bearing in mind that the movie is based on a book, The Lincoln Lawyer is a dumb name for a movie. I would suggest instead something more concise and ambiguous. Mr. Lincoln comes to mind, if only to irritate film snobs by the inevitable confusion with John Ford’s Young Mr. Lincoln. Again, petty, but a cool movie deserves a cool title. Fortunately it has a good enough trailer to draw in viewers not previously familiar with Michael Connelly’s novels.
The movie fluffs around for a bit at the beginning, merely to establish how complacently badass this character is. The audience gets to sit through the first few scenes and murmur, “wow, he’s so cool…” and McConaughey gets to wink back at them and say, “yeah, I know I am.” Then the plot gets down to business, and predictably the case becomes dangerous and complicated enough to rattle him out of his comfort zone and force him to fight dirty. There are no huge surprises in the movie, but the twisted intrigue and solid character work make it plenty entertaining.
McConaughey is note-perfect in his role. If the filmmakers feel inclined to adapt the other Mickey Haller books into films, they would do well to hang onto their leading man. Say what you will about that smirking, purring delivery of his. The actor’s offscreen reputation as a mischievous stoner, as well as his prolific work in silly comedies alongside gals like Kate Hudson and Jennifer Garner, tend to eclipse his range as an actor capable of very good dramatic work. Those who recall Lone Star or A Time To Kill might agree.
The rest of the cast is very good, though some characters are given more to do than others. Marisa Tomei, adorable as usual, never quite gets to sink her teeth into her supporting role. As a prosecutor for the District Attorney’s office, and also Haller’s ex-wife, she does little to suggest either fact about herself. Her role is that of a still-adoring sidekick, perpetually willing to help Haller out of a jam, and to talk about their beloved young daughter. Her role is reminiscent of Vera Farmiga’s in The Departed, another case in which a talented actress gets stuck with a limp character and can only do so much with it. The relationship between Mickey and Maggie is the weak link in the drama. There is so little conflict between them that one must wonder why they are divorced at all.
Ryan Phillippe, who only seems to act in one or two films a year, is wonderfully, eerily awkward as Haller’s client, accused of assault, rape, and possibly murder. The creepy Oedipal apron-string subtext between him and his mother (Frances Fisher) is a nice touch. Whether or not you believe his story, you will not like him from the minute your first see him. Supporting turns by William H. Macy, John Leguizamo, Michael Peña, and Bob Gunton are all strong. Josh Lucas really stands out as the opposing counsel, an earnest young fellow who slowly develops a grudging appreciation for Haller’s ability to outgun him in court.
As with most courtroom drama, attorneys will probably not think this film is anything special. However, we the ignorant masses cry “hurrah!” and want to become high-priced lawyers too, only to discover that it is more work and less fun than it sounds. McConaughey is especially fun to watch, because he relishes his job and it shows. The Lincoln Lawyer is wholesome brain candy, and well-timed among the post-Oscar sludge that normally dominates the season. The movie starts off comfortably cheesy and ends the same way. Somewhere in the middle, it digs deep enough that you will probably be glad you showed up.