As an attorney, I can never imagine why the public at large enjoys legal thrillers so much. Whether its books, tv shows, or movies, Americans never seem to get enough of legal stories. With the exception of a few John Grisham novels and some great law films, I’ve never counted myself among those who enjoy the genre, even before I entered law school. Although they involve all the elements that make up a great suspenseful drama, the procedural aspects of the occupation makes it very boring. At least to me it does. So upon my first viewing of the trailer for THE LINCOLN LAWYER, I was already writing the film off before the trailer even ended. For one, its adapted from the novel by Michael Connelly, who is the legal thriller equivalent of trashy romance novelists. What’s more, it starred Matthew McConaughey, whose career pretty much ended for me after his last good film, 1997’s CONTACT (although I didn’t see WE ARE MARSHALL, which I hear is pretty good). I’m also way over any film that still relies on surprise plot twists, which this film teased at in the trailer. Anyway, the reviews for the film come out and to my astonishment, THE LINCOLN LAWYER gets very good reviews, especially for McConaughey’s performance! Mind you, this isn’t supposed to happen because this shit almost never happens, but I figured if critics are digging the hell out of this movie this much, who am I to say this film still blows without seeing it? After an entertaining 2 hours, I’m glad to admit that I was not disappointed by this film by any means and although the story turns out to be your typical household legal potboiler, it’s as good as any legal thriller can be. However, more than anything else, THE LINCOLN LAWYER is all Matthew McConaughey.

Without giving anything away, Matthew McConaughey is Mickey Haller, a successful and slick Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer. Haller is a stereotypical criminal defense shyster. With his office inside a Lincoln Towncar (chauffeured by a guy who is a former client working off his legal fees), Haller wheels and deals through the criminal court system like an old pro. He doesn’t give a shit whether his clients are innocent or guilty so long as they pay him. Different from his typical criminal clientele, Haller is one day offered to represent Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe), a wealthy Beverly Hills son of a real estate mogul who has been charged with assaulting and attempting to murder a prostitute he met at a bar. The case at first appears to be pretty straightforward with Roulet coming off as the victim of a setup. However, twists soon begin to surface and Haller realizes there is a hell of a lot more to his case than he initially thought.

If you’re a fan of legal thriller novels, then the plot of THE LINCOLN LAWYER will be all too familiar. The story doesn’t contain anything you have not seen before. Based on my above synopsis, you don’t need to be a genius to figure out what the story is really about. In that sense, I was hoping for something more original from the film, but I also wasn’t expecting anything original given the style of the novel’s author. At the same time, I give the screenwriter and the novelist a lot of credit for telling their story well. As clichéd as the story becomes in many parts of the film, at least you get a well executed story that tries very hard to present the narrative in as interesting a manner as it can. More importantly, I think both the novelist and the filmmakers recognized that what they lacked in an original story they would make up by giving the audience well-developed and engaging characters, which they do in abundance.

THE LINCOLN LAWYER is really a character-driven piece and as I just described, the appeal of the film doesn’t lie in its narrative. There are many characters in this movie and every one of them is fully dimensional and superbly written. This film is a noteworthy example for any screenwriter who wants to see a well-crafted character driven movie. The filmmakers litter the film with a big cast of colorful characters and well-known and talented actors to play them. Like I said before, this film mainly belongs to Matthew McConaughey, who delivers a star turn in this movie. In fact, had THE LINCOLN LAWYER been released during the fall or winter, I think McConaughey would have had a good shot of getting an Oscar nomination. Unfortunately, films that come out in the spring mostly get forgotten by Academy members. Ever since his powerful debut in A TIME TO KILL, it seems like good films and meaty roles have eluded McConaughey. So I suppose its only fitting that the actor’s best role since his lawyer role in John Grisham’s A TIME TO KILL is another lawyer role in another best-selling novelist’s film adaptation. If you’re wondering whether McConaughey is simply trying to recapture his former glory by playing the same type of role, you’re wrong. In A TIME TO KILL, the actor was a young, idealistic crusader who believed in the justice system and helping to solve social injustice. Mickey Haller, on the other hand, is anything but that. Haller is an asshole. He’s your typical slick L.A. attorney who has seen it all and he doesn’t give a fuck. Haller knows he’s good at what he does and he uses his talents to make a shitload of money so he can live comfortably. He recognizes the justice system is broken and corrupt and he likes that just fine because it enables him to work within the system and earn himself a fat paycheck. Although McConaughey’s Haller is not a good person, he’s still very likeable and he lays on the charm thick. Again, this is a great performance and THE LINCOLN LAWYER deserves to be watched for McConaughey’s performance alone.

Supporting McConaughey is a formidable cast of actors, all of whom maintain the momentum of the film. Haller’s rich playboy client is played fittingly by Ryan Phillippe. Can there be a better suited actor to play a rich, spoiled asshole kid from Beverly Hills than the rich, spoiled asshole kid from Manhattan in CRUEL INTENTIONS? Phillippe has grown on me over the years and I think the actor managed to elevate himself from a bad actor starring in shitty teen films to a somewhat talented young man appearing in small roles in serious films. However, no matter how good of an actor he may eventually become, Ryan Phillippe is cursed with the face of the ultimate looking douchebag. Of course, this isn’t much of a curse if you’re getting cast in good douchebag roles like the one he plays in THE LINCOLN LAWYER. Here, Phillippe is perfectly cast and he carries the role very well.

Marisa Tomei and William H. Macy also star in THE LINCOLN LAWYER as Haller’s ex-wife/district attorney and Haller’s private investigator, respectively. No offense to either actor, but the first thing that struck me about both of them was how old they now look (remember the spunky young and cute Tomei in MY COUSIN VINNY?) During the past couple of years, Tomei has been experiencing a career resurgence, with an Academy Award-nominated performance in THE WRESTLER, last year’s CYRUS, and now THE LINCOLN LAWYER. Unlike most older actresses, what’s great about Tomei’s second career is that she actually gets to play her real age and that’s pretty refreshing to see these days. Unfortunately, Tomei isn’t given a whole lot to do in this film, but what she is given she does well and that’s pretty much all you can say about her here. The same goes for William H. Macy. He plays a sort of old hippie kind of guy and his short screen time almost made me wonder why the hell they even bothered casting someone of his caliber for a role that could have really been played by anyone. Then again, why complain if you’re going to get to see a small role played by a great actor instead of some unknown actor with a few TV episodes to his credit?

The strangest casting bit for me was Josh Lucas’ casting as one of the District Attorneys. He is barely seen in this movie and I wonder if there was a lot more with the actor in footage that got eventually cut. Lucas actually does a pretty good job here and what’s more, he plays against type. Normally, you see Lucas either play a smarmy villain or a dashing, romantic type. Here, you barely recognize him as he seems to have gained some pounds for the role and he basically plays a not-so-bright government lawyer who’s way over his head against the likes of Mickey Haller.

As much as I enjoyed watching THE LINCOLN LAWYER, it does suffer from being a little too much like a TV movie-of-the-week or a good episode of LAW & ORDER. Fortunately, the actors help set the film apart from becoming completely like a TV movie. What is more, Brad Furman, the director of the film, paints Los Angeles in a unflattering, gritty look to fit the tone of the movie and especially, Mickey Haller’s bottom-feeding life. You’re not going to see a slicked up, pretty L.A., but a grimy, dirty place where you see children playing in a park that’s right next to a busy freeway lined with palm trees (which is the real L.A. for those of you who have never been to the city). THE LINCOLN LAWYER doesn’t quite reach the heights of a Raymond Chandler novel, but it sure as hell tries. It’s a well-executed, wonderfully acted movie that, if successful, will surely turn into a movie franchise for McConaughey.

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