Film Review: The Lincoln Lawyer

by chubbywerewolf on 19 March 2011

Lincoln Lawyer

Mick Haller (Matthew McConaughey, left) and Detective Lankford (Bryan Cranston, right) in THE LINCOLN LAWYER. Photo credit: Saeed Adyani (Lionsgate Publicity)

In the series finale of the television show “Greek,” one character asks another, “Hey, remember that terrible Matthew McConaughey film?” The respondent replies by recounting much of Mr. McConaughey’s body of work from the past ten years. (The winner—or should we say loser?—tuns out to be 2009’s “Ghosts of Girlfriends past,” a dull rom-com spin on Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”)

The sad truth behind the punchline is that Mr. McConaughey has made a dizzying number of bad films in his 20 year career. Blessed with charismatic charm and rugged good lucks, the actor seems content to swagger from one forgettable movie to the next. The names of the characters he plays may change from film-to-film, but the roles themselves—likable sleazeball who unwittingly stumbles upon redemption—almost never vary.

Of course, they haven’t all been duds. While he’s done some quality work here and there (“Lone Star” and “We Are Marshall” come to mind), McConaughey has never shone as brightly as he did in 1996’s “A Time to Kill,” the adaptation of John Grisham’s courtroom thriller.

The prospect of McConaughey returning to the coutroom—this time as Mick Haller, the central character in “The Lincoln Lawyer,” (an adaptation author Michael Connelly’s 2005 crime novel)—piqued my interest.

In the movie (directed by Brad Furman), the fast-talking Haller (whose nickname is dervied from the fact that he works from the back seat of a chauffeured Lincoln Town Car) takes on the case of Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe), a wealthy realtor who has been charged with assault and attempted murder of a prostitute. With assistance from private detective Frank Levin (William H. Macy), Haller uncovers evidence that suggests that Roulet is the victim of an elaborate frame-up.

McConaughey doesn’t deviate much from his usual modus operandi, but it actually serves to help him this time around. We see an example of Haller’s slimy charm early on in the picture when he makes it clear to a deadbeat client that he’s prepared to let him rot in jail in perpetuity, simply by seeking continuance after continuance from the presiding judge. (The debt is cleared minutes later.)

McConaughey plays his role with conviction, but it is the supporting performances from Marisa Tomei (as prosecutor Maggie McPherson, a one-time lover and the mother of Haller’s young daughter), Macy, Shea Whigham and Bryan Cranston that make the film fun to watch. Tomei may well be the film’s MVP. The 46 year-old actress is aging as gracefully as anyone in Hollywood. While her role in “The Lincoln Lawyer” is not as large or as substantive as those in “The Wrestler,” “Cyrus” or “In the Bedroom,” but it is a good piece of work nonetheless.

Alas, the rest of the movie is not as strong as the performances are. After a solid first act, the plot swerves into absurdity. Events occur which defy believability, and new pieces of evidence avail themselves to Haller and his pals as if on cue. Too many secondary characters pop up suddenly, and then disappear as quickly as they emerged. Order is restored (somewhat) in the third act, but not without a couple of false endings—one of which was so convincing that a few members of my audience began to leave the theater—which seem to exist solely for the sake of tying up loose ends that should have been worked out thirty minutes earlier.

As a result, “The Lincoln Lawyer” is less a shiny new towncar than it is a patchwork rehab careening off-course and down some rocky hillside. We know that the inevitable crash and burn won’t be pretty, but the plunge is still kind of fun to watch.

RATING: 3 MOONS (out of 5)

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