Movie Review: The Lincoln Lawyer

The Lincoln Lawyer
Directed by Brad Furman
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Marisa Tomei, Ryan Phillippe, William H. Macy, John Leguizamo, Frances Fisher, Michael Pena and Josh Lucas
Release date: March 18, 2011

Los Angeles is an incomparable environment when we are talking about the innocent and the sinful; the beautiful and the damned; the honorable and the deceitful. The California hotspot has been glorified by films’ exposing of corruption that is at the city’s core. The steamy nights, palm trees lining the most dangerous sidewalks, and homes of all sizes overlooking the inestimable amount of glittering lights. These are touchstone characteristics of modern day film noirs (Mulholland Dr.) and classic noirs (Mildred Pierce). It is such a city that is ripe for extravagance, tragedy, merciless characters, beauty, and horrific doings. And people are still attracted to it. But maybe the most honored characteristic of noirs and L.A. is a hero who signifies American coolness and who is unafraid to excavate past the norm.

And who is cooler to strut the streets of L.A. and get chauffeured around in his black Lincoln (which doubles as his office) than Matthew McConaughey? “Ain’t no Love in the Heart of the City” by Bobby Blue Bland is playing as we first see Mick Haller (McConaughey), a smooth, conniving, haughty hotshot defense lawyer. And surely love is hard to come by in this L.A., directed harshly and correctly by Brad Furman (The Take), who shows the city’s grimness and shadiness opposed to hiding behind its superficial beauty. Within the first few scenes we know that Mick is well acquainted with his environment, keeping close to him drug abusers, motorcycle gangs, and conmen, all who give him valuable information. Everything is business-related. His ex-wife (Marisa Tomei) works with the DA. There is no true love there either.

Mick, a character created from the Michael Connelly novel in which The Lincoln Lawyer> is based on, is a man undoubtedly ready to encounter the hypocrisy stemming from a bourgeois family that pervades his environment, no matter how much depravity and deception he has to digest. Most would be disinclined to mingle in such scenarios with a goal of restoring all that is corrupt. But the American Cool and his ambitious effort to confront flagrant violence and deception is a hallmark of American cinema.

So when he gets a case offer from his bondman Val (John Leguizamo), who says it promises big money, Mick jumps on it. The case involves a prostitute who claims she was brutally beaten and raped by a wealthy Beverly Hills real estate agent by the name of Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe great at concealing his sins). The man is rich and comes from a prominent family. Louis insists he is innocent and his mother (Frances Fisher) has enough dough to fight for her sons’ freedom. No problem there. But why would a rich man want a lawyer like Mick whose office is in the back seat of his Lincoln? Anyway, the problems arise when Louis’ sworn accounts of what truly happened turn into lies. Mick wants to dig deeper. He gets together with his private investigator (William H. Macy) and the two discover more than they expected.

When we usually see McConaughey sweating, breathless, shirtless, and drinking we quickly equate him with either just finishing up having sex or just having attempted to surf a gnarly wave. We unfortunately absorbed many films of him indulging in such mindless acts. Now we witness an epiphany. The McConaughey in “The Lincoln Lawyer” still retains that unpolished look generated by many drinks of liquor and sleepless nights. But he isn’t reveling in liquor nor partying all night long. The cause of his grueling demeanor (when he isn’t in the courtroom looking exquisite) is due to his line of work. Being a defense lawyer, insomnia is guaranteed to ensue. He is engaged in his work and emotionally attached to some cases (most notably a flashback sequence sheds light on a past case of his involving a murder suspect, played by Michael Pena, who Mick got locked up in San Quentin). Starring up at the ceiling heavily intoxicated one night Mick says something to his ex-wife that is almost Shakespearean; “I was once afraid of innocence. Now I’m afraid of pure evil.”

This isn’t the McConaughey we have been exposed to for the last decade. Substance and recognition is what he is after, and he doesn’t need to display his abs in order to receive it. His Mick Haller is a well wrought portrait of a man hurting inside, emotionally shaken and lugging along with him a past that doesn’t disintegrate, haunting him as long as he is alive. This is how “The Lincoln Lawyer” separates itself from the plethora of crime found in television shows and recent cinema. Michael Connelly’s book allows screenwriter John Romano and Furman to relieve us of the mundane narratives and dry characters courtroom dramas normally cling to. Prosperity derives from a great cast, a smart script and McConaughey’s ability to exceed every expectation as a man who is burdened with grief because he just wants “to make things right.”

Rating: **** out of *****

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