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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 18, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 11
Pulpy Lincoln Lawyer a likable legal thriller
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Pulpy Lincoln Lawyer a likable legal thriller

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

The Lincoln Lawyer
Opening March 18


Mickey Haller (Matthew McConaughey) is a Los Angeles defense attorney making his living defending drug dealers, biker gangs, and other relative lowlifes using the back seat of his Lincoln Town Car as his office to wheel and deal with prosecutors, law enforcement officials, and clients across the city. He's got a handful of ex-wives, including District Attorney Maggie McPherson (Marisa Tomei), with whom he shares an adolescent daughter. Mickey does his best to juggle it all and not get buried underneath the nastiness he submerges himself in daily.

But maybe Mickey's ship has just come in. According to bail bondsman Val Valenzuela (John Leguizamo), the very rich Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe) is interested in hiring him in regards to a pending criminal case. The wealthy realtor is charged with the assault and attempted rape of prostitute Reggie Campo (Margarita Levieva), and he feels Mickey's the one to get him off - even if his high-priced legal counsel Cecil Dobbs (Bob Gunton) and his smothering mother Mary Windsor (Frances Fisher) don't quite feel the same.

Something smells off. After visiting a former client (Michael Peña) in prison (who is serving a life sentence for a murder he claims he did not commit), Mickey turns to friend and investigator Frank Levin (William H. Macy) to do a little more digging on his client's supposedly impeccable background. What gets uncovered and what transpires doesn't just put the case in jeopardy, but the attorney's family and friends as well, leading the attorney to consider that his life may not be as rosy as he's always leading others to believe.

The cast of The Lincoln Lawyer is out of this world, and that is its chief asset. On top of those already mentioned, the likes of Josh Lucas, Bryan Cranston, Trace Adkins, Michael Paré, Shea Whigham, Laurence Mason, and Michaela Conlin pop up in key supporting roles, and everyone adds just the right amount of grit and nuance to make their respective roles come to life. This is a movie where everyone feels like they're right in the middle of their perfect groove, no one upstaging anyone else, all working together to make the material simmer and percolate in a way that is consistently invigorating.

Based on the book by popular crime fiction author Michael Connelly, John Romano's (Nights in Rodanthe) workmanlike script does a good job of parsing down the source material's complexity, boiling things down into a straightforward narrative that's crisp and clean. There is no fat on this picture's bones, no excess material going off into unnecessary tangents that would slow down the momentum. This is a full-bore legal thriller of maneuvering and slight-of-hand, of parlor games and verbal ingenuity, and when all is said and done, the tension ratcheted up is of a higher pedigree than I would have believed was possible.

Not that we haven't seen this before. From Presumed Innocent to The Verdict, Primal Fear to To Kill a Mockingbird, A Few Good Men to Anatomy of a Murder, going inside the courtroom to solve a murder has always been a destination Hollywood has adored returning to. With the intricate complexities of Connelly's novel stripped away, there's not a huge amount of shock as to where everything is heading. The movie is obvious, and other than a last-second homage to Lady Macbeth, I doubt anyone is going to walk away afterwards surprised.

But they will definitely be entertained. McConaughey hasn't been this engaged and active in what seems like forever, the man taking on the persona of the fast-talking Haller and making the most out of the opportunity. Reading the book, I'd never have imagined him in the role (he's part Hispanic as written, after all). Now after watching the movie, I'm going to have trouble getting his portrayal of the guy out of my head, the actor dominating in such a fashion I was instantly reminded why so many thought he was going to be the Next Big Thing after appearing in the otherwise lackluster A Time to Kill.

Director Brad Furman made a barely-seen independent called The Take back in 2007, and he applies the same sort of dynamics here as he did in that freewheeling crime-riddled gem. The filmmaker keeps the focus on the characters, never veering away from them, understanding momentum must always be going forward and that his main players need to be the primary focus. His vision never wavers and rarely goes off-track, reminding me of the late Alan J. Pakula in regards to his attention to detail and ability to make even the mundane slightly fascinating.

The Lincoln Lawyer isn't a perfect film, and by all rights it probably shouldn't be. It's a pulpy legal thriller full of all the usual dirt and grime, and where it's headed isn't a shocker. But thanks to its solid script, confident direction, and pitch-perfect performances, there's so much pleasure to be had watching it that any familiarity isn't a problem. I enjoyed the heck out of it, and as far as my courtroom is concerned, objections to the contrary don't have even the faintest chance of being sustained.

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