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Saturday, March 19, 2011

Mick (Matthew McConaughey) representing his client,
Louis (Ryan Phillippe), in The Lincoln Lawyer.

3 Stars

The Lincoln Lawyer is the perfect kind of March movie. It’s not all that challenging, and it follows the formula of its genre to a T, but it’s quite entertaining. The script is well-developed, and Matthew McConaughey—yes, that Matthew McConaughey—turns out a surprisingly good performance. The ending tries a little too hard to wrap things up completely, but other than that, I had very few complaints about this fun little film.

Based off a popular novel by Michael Connelly, the film follows Mick Haller (McConaughey), a hotshot defense attorney in Southern California who is known for conducting most of his business from the back of his Lincoln Town Car. One day, Mick is called upon to defend a rich playboy, Louis (Ryan Phillippe), who has been accused of the assault and attempted rape of a prostitute. The evidence against him is damning, but Louis is unequivocal: He’s innocent and won’t accept a plea bargain of any kind. Mick doesn’t really care whether he’s innocent or not, just that his client is being honest with him. When Mick’s investigator Frank (William H. Macy) digs and finds that not to necessarily be the case, the Lincoln lawyer is forced to make some tough decisions that might put him, his colleagues, and his family in danger.

I was really quite impressed by The Lincoln Lawyer’s screenplay. The plot is very intricate, and screenwriter John Romano develops everything at a smart pace (at least until the last 15-20 minutes). There are many little reveals that drive the action and prevent any major lulls. And nothing felt too silly. Mick is a smart guy, but he’s not Superman, and we see him weak and vulnerable, though we never really doubt that he’ll end up on top.

As I said, the conclusion was my major issue. The film has a case of Return of the King-itis, with three or four moments that feel tacked on and unnecessary. Sure, they help wrap up every loose end, but tighter in this case would have been better.

As far as acting goes, McConaughey is the standout. He’s really the only one who has much to work with, but he turns out the best performance I’ve ever seen from him. He’s his usual cocky self, but as the film progresses, he gets a big dose of reality. He’s not always in charge, and that throws him for a loop. During this portion of the film, McConaughey shows he’s more than just a pretty face. He’ll probably never win an Oscar, but he’s capable of more than he’s shown us in his awful romantic comedies in recent years.

The supporting cast is filled with familiar faces. William H. Macy and Ryan Phillippe play their roles well, though they aren’t memorable characters. Marissa Tomei plays a prosecutor and ex-wife of Mick. Frances Fisher plays Louis’ mother. And Michael Pena has a few good minutes as a former client of Mick’s who harbors some serious resentment.

Director Brad Furman stays out of the way for the most part, which is welcome. There’s no real reason to present this film as anything other than a straight legal thriller because the material is compelling enough as is. It’s twisty and fun, and while it’s hardly revelatory in any way, all the pieces come together nicely to make a solidly entertaining early-year release.


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