Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Movie Review: The Lincoln Lawyer

McConaughey Legalese

"Furman's legal thriller skirts morality, remodels expectations and overhauls conventions; a man strides into court confident and leaves conscious."  

Admittedly, this review is a bit tardy and I'm sorry. As you know, there was something called the A-To-Z Challenge that consumed all of my waking blogging time.
      Who could've anticipated the creepy but endearing older dude from Dazed and Confused—making his feature film debut—would become one of the biggest Hollywood stars of the last 15 years. It all boils down to an admission that would land most of us in jail:  "That's what I love about these high school girls, man. I get older, they stay the same age." It's a disconcerting confession. If any other actor spoke that line, I'd find 'em utterly detestable. Lest we not forget Quentin Tarantino's From Dusk Til Dawn character...I mean talk about a total scumbag. But Tarantino is best served behind the camera and McConaughey's not any other actor. Like "The King of Cool," Matthew McConaughey, no matter how unsavory his character, exudes an effortless cool. It is that cool factor—specifically, the approachable guy-I'd-like-to-have-a-beer-with type of charisma—that distinguishes the handsome Texas-born actor from most other prominent performers. And it's precisely this measure of charisma that makes The Lincoln Lawyer a super-fun movie. 
      The first ten minutes of Brad Furman's film illustrate to me why every woman I've ever talked to fancies this guy with the alliterative name who doesn't deodorize his armpits. He's a total stud. And he can also act. Matthew McConaughey plays Mickey Haller, a slick, no-nonsense criminal defense attorney of the streets. Operating from the backseat of his Lincoln Continental (hence the film's title), Haller represents a smorgasbord of sordid clients; guys who prefer Harleys and tattoos rather than luxury cars and fancy suits. He finally lands the case of a lifetime when he's hired to defend a rich playboy, Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe) who stands accused of rape and attempted murder (of a prostitute). He hastily accepts the case to the tune of a six-figure payday. But Mickey soon discovers that he's become entangled in a contorted plot with another master manipulator.

      Mr. Furman's earnest direction harmonizes beautifully with John Romano's streetwise script—a polished and condensed adaptation of Mr. Connelly's best seller. An extremely wealthy man (Ryan Phillippe) bludgeons a prostitute to near death (or does he?), and his pecunious mother (Frances Fisher) strives to absolve him of any blame. The client, Louise Roulet, insists on his innocence, and Mick is the man he hires to prove it. Naturally, complications ensue. In tandem with his grizzly-haired investigator (William H. Macy), Mick confidently works the case and chases down leads despite being hounded by cops with axes to grind (Bryan Cranston and Michael Paré). Everything seems self-explanatory and clear-cut until a few new revelations emerge. And it's specifically these new revelations that transform Mr. Connelly's story into a compelling cinematic legal thriller. Mr. Connelly and Mr. Furman avoid overt sentimental touches—at least inorganic plot contrivances save for a death. Their tactful manipulation of Mick's case, which is driven by an appeal to understand rather than a declaration to dictate, nurses our empathy. Mick is quite intentionally an enigma. Furman exploits Mr. McConaughey's facile allure, reviving that "I love those redheads" Dazed and Confused charm—where physical and material escapades define his reputation—until ethical and moral questions emerge, steering Mick (he's in a Lincoln after all) towards justice, not hedonism.
      Sometimes Matthew McConaughey is too cool for his own good. How many jarring, sub-par romantic comedies opposite Sandra Bullock and Kate Hudson could this pretty boy play? It was about time for McConaughey to inhabit a role that conceals his rock-hard abs and pearly whites. Rather than playing Mr. Macho or Mr. Right, it was time for Mr. Righteous—an opportunity to enlist his natural charm in a more gritty and substantial setting. Mickey Haller is that role. And instead of Sandra or Kate or J-Lo, Marisa Tomei is his beautiful co-star. She is the kind of real woman (remember My Cousin Vinny) that other woman can actually relate to for she doesn't grace People Magazine every other week. 
      McConaughey's portrayal is likeable, earnest, and most importantly, organic. Mick is not Hollywood's latest tormented good guy readying for his big redemption. Instead, he's a believable guy next door. He has a charming and engaging ex-wife (Tomei, as a prosecutor), a young daughter who worships the ground he walks on and friends who support him. McConaughey and Furman ensure that Mick's temperament is fashioned from real life fabrics. And who is better prepared to play a real life guy than a guy's-guy? His occasional romantic partner Marisa Tomei delivers a fervid performance. She is a splendid caricature; the type of woman who is at odds with love, lust, and legality. And the rest of the cast does a solid job tying up any loose ends. Phillippe has already proven a knack for questionable, often contemptible figures and Macy is an absolute delight as Mick's friend and investigator. 

      Mr. Furman gives The Lincoln Lawyer the raw, anatomical look it deserves. Rather than showcasing the bright lights of Southern California, Furman focuses on the shadows, introducing seedy characters in mundane surroundings. The tonal feel of the hip hop heavy soundtrack solidifies the contemporary finish, painting a picture of grit and street toughness. Furman doesn't embellish the scenery; he coats it with a crude finish. When an intimidating biker gang pulls up alongside Mick's Lincoln, one's initial thought is concern, not friendliness. But these nuanced twists—playing with the audience's expectations—makes Furman's familiar story unfamiliar. Mr. Connelly, much like Mr. Tarantino, was inspired by the writings of Raymond Chandler, and it shows in Mick's worn causerie. The Lincoln Lawyer is comfortably driven by clever dialogue, swift direction and brisk storytelling. But our destination, a byproduct of fluid pacing, is seldom understood. Furman's legal thriller skirts morality, remodels expectations and overhauls conventions; a man strides into court confident and leaves conscious. 

7.5 out of 10

*Official trailer for The Lincoln Lawyer.


  1. Excellent review, Matthew. Very enjoyable to read.

  2. it's interesting how McConaughey often plays lawyers on film even though in his real life he acts and looks like an uneducated person :)

  3. @ mooderino

    Thanks! It was a better film than I anticipated, and a lot of that has to do with McConaughey re-discovering his early-career charm.

    @ Dezmond

    I partly understand what you're saying as I once I lost faith in McConaughey because all he did was lame romance movies. I should have known better. When he's put in a good role, he owns it. I'll never again lose faith in Wooderson from Dazed and Confused.

    A Time to Kill was great, as was this film. And he's an educated guy. He graduated from the University of Texas, which is a prestigious university.

  4. I was thinking this looked like it might be pretty good.

  5. Amen to McConaughey heading back into the courtroom. It is about time he quit doing those godawful rom coms that make my sugar levels reach the heights of the Hindu Kush. He is so much better than that.

    I have to see this, but I'm waiting for DVD because well, when one is on a lean budget, explosions and high octane f/x win out on movie night. Can you tell I'm heading out to see Thor this weekend?

  6. I read the novel prior going to this film, and I still walk out of it feeling pleased. McConaughhey looks set to reprise his role as Mickey for the other films to come, great performance.

    Good review and I enjoyed this film as you do too!

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  8. Matty, your reviews are always a joy to read. I wish I was as an accomplished writer as you are :)

    I'm watching this on Sunday probably - Wasn't impressed by the previews, but it seems it's a good one.

  9. Seeing M.M. in a meaty role was a real treat. Great movie...loved the opening credits sequence with the "city streets map" theme. Very creative. The only problem for me was the relationship with Marisa Tomei...seemed like as ex's they got along pretty well (even making love once in a while)...so why did they divorce in the first place? It was explained a little in the scene where she said something like "this always happens" referring to his workaholism...but I didn't buy it. He's a great father and a caring person. Nothing to really get divorced over. Other than that, the movie was perfect. I'm going to get the DVD for my collection. BTW: I'm a fan of his rom coms, too.

  10. Interesting review, Matty! I haven't seen it yet, but I'll probablly rent it soon. It's just hard to get the taste of GHOSTS OF GIRLFRIENDS PAST out of my mouth...but it sounds like THE LINCOLN LAWYER will help me out with that!

  11. @ Ruth

    It looks good and actually is good. You'll enjoy it!

    @ Melissa

    Haha, my point exactly. I've always enjoyed McConaughey, but I grew tired of his rom coms.

    And I feel your number crunch. Since ticket prices are too high, the opportunity cost of missing a great elaborate f/x film is higher than a courtroom drama. Thus, go for the f/x. I can't wait to see it this Friday as well!

    @ J Son

    Awesome! I didn't read the novel, but from what I gather, it is a very fair adaptation. And thanks!

  12. @ Nebular

    Thanks buddy! And you are quite the skilled writer. Never sell yourself short!

    And it's better than you think because I too, had some tepid preconceptions that went out the window once I dug myself into this film.

    @ Luana

    I completely agree. McConaughey is so much more enjoyable when he plays substantial characters. I really liked him in Frailty as well.

    The opening credit sequence was great especially with the hip hop music thumping in the background. We were immediately enamored with MM. He showed us to be a slick, skilled, and charming fella right off the bat.

    I was also a bit disappointed by the MM and Tomei divorced-relationship. I think they alluded to it the morning after he slept with her. When he was getting ready to pour himself a glass of orange juice, she said something like you never change...along the lines of, while I'm trying to put criminals away, your trying to keep them on the streets. Thus, their opposing career loyalties seemed to be what fractured their relationship.

    @ Rachel

    Thanks! Haha, I feel you on the Ghosts of Girlfriends Past disdain. I could only stomach a quarter of that movie. This move, on the other hand, I enjoyed every minute.

  13. Haven't seen this one but according to your review it sounds like a good one to watch on DVD.

  14. Jaccs, you're a smart moviegoer with good taste. You'll definitely appreciate this movie on DVD!

  15. Do you not think this movie is almost like a hint at the types of characters McConaughey will play in the impending television career that awauts him?

  16. Interesting observation. Sort of the reverse Clooney. We shall see.

    He'd make one heck of a TV star.