“THE LINCOLN LAWYER” (2011) Review

“THE LINCOLN LAWYER” (2011) Review

For years I began to wonder if Matthew McConaughey would be stuck in an endless series of mediocre romance comedies and light action thrillers. The last noteworthy movie I had seen him in was the 2008 comedy, “TROPIC THUNDER”. Only, he was not the lead in that film. And the last noteworthy movie in which he was the lead actor was the 2006 drama, “WE ARE MARSHALL” and before that – the 2000 World War II thriller, “U-571”. Then I saw “THE LINCOLN LAWYER” and whatever doubts I had about the future of his career were erased. For now. 

Directed by Brad Furman and based upon Michael Connelly’s 2005 novel, “THE LINCOLN LAWYER” told the story about a successful Los Angeles defense attorney named Mickey Haller, who operates around Los Angeles County out of a Lincoln Town Car, driven by a former client working off his legal fees (hence the title). Haller has spent most of his career defending garden-variety criminals, until he lands the case of his career – a Beverly Hills playboy named Louis Roulet, who also happens to be the son of a real estate mogul named Mary Windsor. Roulet is accused of the brutal beating of a prostitute. At first, Roulet seems to be an innocent who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. But when Haller and his investigator, Frank Levin, discover that the prostitute’s injuries are similar to a past case of his that landed a previous client, Jesus Martinez in prison for murdering a woman, the seemingly straightforward case suddenly develops into a deadly game of survival for Haller.

After watching this movie, it occurred to me that the movie’s title bore very little significance to the actual plot. If anything, the idea that the Mickey Haller operated his law firm from the back seat of his Lincoln Town Car struck me as some kind of plot contrivance that almost seemed like a publicity ploy. Honestly. Both Connelly’s novel and the movie would have been better off with a title that related more closely with the plot. Perhaps I am being a bit of a nitpicker. Yet, before I actually saw “THE LINCOLN LAWYER”, I honestly thought the car would feature as a major plot point for the story. Another problem I had with the movie was that at times, cinematographer Lukas Ettlin utilized in that quick-cut photography that tends to leave me feeling slightly dizzy. And I thought that the story’s conclusion may have been rushed a bit. But despite these mild annoyances, I enjoyed the movie very much.

One, it has become increasingly rare to find a major Hollywood movie set in the Los Angeles. There have been movies set in my hometown. But there are not as many as they used to be. And as an Angeleno, this has been a bone of contention for me. Thankfully, director Brad Furman and cinematographer Lukas Ettlin did a great job in revealing the City of Angels to movie goers without resorting to extremes in its portrayal. Two, Furman made great use of a first-rate cast filled with many whose careers I thought were either over or sliding into oblivion. Most importantly, both Furman and screenwriter John Romano did an excellent job of translating Connelly’s novel to the screen. Okay, I confess that I have never read the novel. Which means that I do not know how faithful Romano’s screenplay was to the novel. But whether the movie was a close adaptation or not, I must admit that it had a damn good story. The best thing I liked about “THE LINCOLN LAWYER” was that Haller’s defense of Roulet transformed into a nightmarish situation in which he found himself in an unwitting game of cat and mouse.

When I said that the cast was first-rate, I was not joking. The supporting cast included excellent performances from the likes of Frances Fisher, who portrayed Roulet’s controlling and over-protective mother; Michael Peña, who portrayed Haller’s former client claiming innocence of murder, while serving time in prison; Laurence Mason as Haller’s observant chauffeur/former client; Michael Paré and Bryan Cranston, who portrayed two hostile but very different L.A.P.D. detectives, John Leguizamo, who portrayed the slightly sleezy bail bondsman responsible for directing Haller to Roulet’s case; and Bob Gunton, who portrayed the Roulet-Windsor family’s obsequious attorney. I believe that the last decent movie that Josh Lucas made was 2006’s “GLORY ROAD”. So, it was great to see him in a first-rate movie in which, once again, he proved how much of a chameleon he could be in his portrayal of the righteous prosecuting attorney, whose self-assurance is slowly whittled away. William H. Macy created a strong screen chemisty as Haller’s intelligent and witty investigator, who helps solve the case. And Marisa Tomei gave a strong performance as Haller’s ex-wife and a prosecutor who is torn between relief that she is no longer married to such a difficult man and lingering feelings for him.

But the two star performances came from Matthew McConaughey in the title role of Mickey Haller; and Ryan Phillippe as his latest client, Louis Roulet. McConaughey, who has spent too many years without a first rate leading role, owned this movie. Let me take that back. He did not completely own the movie, but he definitely made the Mickey Haller character his own. Hell, he practically conquered it. Sure, McConaughey utilized his usual brand of Southern charm in the movie’s first ten or fifteen minutes. But as the movie’s plot made a sharp turn, the actor dropped the charming façade and revealed his character’s range of emotions in dealing with his complicated new client. And speaking of the Louis Roulet character, I believe that it might turn out to be one of Ryan Phillippe’s best roles ever. Due to his superb performance, he transformed Roulet from a charming, yet bewildered client that projected an air of innocence to a dark and malignant man with a talent for manipulation.

Would I recommend that you see “THE LINCOLN LAWYER” before it disappears from the movie theaters? Absolutely. Thanks to director Brad Furman and screenwriter John Romano, the movie turned out to be a superb adaptation of Michael Connelly’s novel. And the movie was also blessed with a first-rate cast, led by outstanding performances from Matthew McConaughey and Ryan Phillippe. It is one of the better movies I have seen this year so far.

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