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The Lincoln Lawyer

March 19, 2011
The Lincoln Lawyer

The first adaptation from Michael Connelly’s Mickey Haller series, The Lincoln Lawyer, is a taut crime-and-courtroom thriller — the first in a long time that doesn’t feel like an excuse for histrionic award-mugging for the leading actors. Everything it lacks in real mystery it makes up for in a clean, precise execution, and an engrossing story.

Mickey Haller (Matthew McConaughey) is the titular lawyer, conducting his business not out of a fixed office but from the back seat of his black Lincoln as it drives around the streets of Los Angeles. He’s a crackerjack criminal defense attorney, representing everyone from drug trafficking bikers gangs to street hookers in the name of the American justice system. But he also knows how to handle himself, and can Use that same system to bring pressure on recalcitrant clients when he needs to.

His latest client, Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe), is the son of a wealthy family, which promises to do well by Mick’s bank account. Louis has been accused of assaulting a woman and raping her at knifepoint. He, of course, denies this; his story is that she invited him to her apartment and set him up as the basis of a civil suit to extort money from him. But something doesn’t quite feel right.

It seems almost certain that Louis is actually guilty, especially when Mick draws the connection to an old case of his where he convinced his client to plead guilty to a brutal murder in order to escape the death penalty — a crime which he now seems not to have committed at all. Mick’s guilt over sending an innocent man to prison hangs over his head, and yet he can’t simply go to the police without violating the attorney-client privilege. Nothing factual is ever really in question, but it’s fascinating to watch Mick figure out how he can uphold the duties of his job and yet also bring Louis to justice.

Screenwriter John Romano and director Brad Furman do an excellent job of bringing Connelly’s story to life, and McConaughey is at his best throughout. But they have the solid backup of a hugely talented cast. Marisa Tomei is Margaret McPherson, Mick’s ex-wife who works for the DA’s office. William H. Macy does his usual excellent job as Frank Levin, Mick’s investigator. Michael Peña, John Leguizamo, Frances Fisher, Josh Lucas, and Bryan Cranston all turn in solid supporting work.

This film is not really the best at any one thing, but it manages to be good at everything it does. The music and visual style call back to the great, gritty crime movies of the ’70s, while still remaining contemporary. While not really a mystery, the plot elements all click into their places one by one in the way of a good con or heist movie, and nothing is truly extraneous in the end. Simply put: this is a very good story, and it’s very well-told. I’m already looking forward to see it done again in The Brass Verdict, which someone at Lakeshore Entertainment should be green-lighting any second now.

Worth It: yes.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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