The Lincoln Lawyer
Published: March 23, 2011
The Lincoln Lawyer
Directed by Brad Furman
Michael Connelly fans rejoice: Director Brad Furman and screenwriter John Romano capably handle the crime fiction workhorse’s 2005 novel about Los Angeles criminal defense attorney Mick Haller, who offices out of the back of his Lincoln Town Car and who sometimes has an oscillating moral compass. Surprisingly, Matthew McConaughey slides right into Haller’s fast-talking, quick-thinking, always-looking-for-the-leveraging-angle shoes. With his shiny suits and Gordon Gekko-esque slicked-back hair, McConaughey’s Haller is a charmingly smart hustler, willing to play hardball with his client, a pot grower for a burly motorcycle gang, until he gets paid. But he also lets former client Earl (Laurence Mason) work off his bill as his driver, and knows how to work the system to keep a longtime client, the drug-addled prostitute Gloria (Katherine Moenning), out of jail and in rehab when she gets busted with cocaine. Thrice divorced, Haller maintains an amicably volatile relationship with his prosecutor-ex Maggie (Marisa Tomei), with whom he has a daughter, Hayley (Mackenzie Aladjem).
Haller’s latest client looks like a chance to exploit some deep pockets. Real estate wealthy playboy Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe, who still knows how to work his prettiness into something kinda scary) stands accused of the assault and attempted murder of a prostitute, Reggie Campo (Margarita Levieva), who Roulet says is trying to sting him for a civil settlement. Something about Roulet, the family lawyer Cecil Dobbs (Bob Gunton), or Roulet’s well-kept mother Mary Windsor (Frances Fisher) doesn’t sit well with Haller’s investigator Frank Levin (William H. Macy), and when Haller himself starts to find holes in Roulet’s version of the events, he recalls another case he handled in which Jesus Martinez (Michael Peña) was accused of murdering a prostitute whose fatal injuries are distressingly similar to Reggie Campo’s.
Make no mistake about it: The Lincoln Lawyer is a typically by-the-numbers procedural, but if you’re a fan of Connelly’s character-rich genre outings, the predictably twisty plot more than satisfies. McConaughey impressively turns his laid-back good old boy Dazed and Confused David Woodersonisms, on which he’s built most of his career, into something like a reptilian veneer to coax information out of people. And when Haller discovers something akin to his conscience, McConaughey doesn’t exactly have the gravity to pull off a sneak-attack of decency, but he makes Haller’s efforts to serve his client and try to do something right for a change a taut tightrope walk.
The rest of the cast, though, is dependably top notch. Tomei isn’t asked to do much but she continues her streak of making some of the more interesting role choices among fortysomething Hollywood actresses. Between Levin and his ribald turn in the Americanized Shameless, Macy is having more fun in his early 60s than any character actor since Jack Lemmon. And hopefully one of these days somebody is going to give Peña more than a bit part. Phillippe, though, once again does exemplary work with a character too easily turned into a one-note villain. In the 1980s or early 1990s, Louis Roulet might’ve been played by James Spader, who would’ve given the privileged man a formidably cunning intellect. Instead, Phillippe turns a potential monster into something far more distressing: a man who guiltessly bounces between the frighteningly vulnerable and the just plain frightening.
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