The Lincoln Lawyer

The Lincoln Lawyer

***1/2

Reviewed by: David Graham

Matthew McConaughey finally crawls out of the rom-com cesspool with a role tailor-made for his particular brand of insouciance. For many, he is the nadir of all that is wrong with Hollywood film-making - whether he's disrobing in insufferable chick flicks or putting his adonis physique to more strenuous use in lame action-adventures, his combination of Southern self-assurance, oil-slick charisma and overall 'dude'ishness can seriously irritate.

Here, all these 'qualities' are entirely appropriate, McConaughey working above and beyond his usual remit to remind us that he can also convey a formidable intensity and subtle sensitivity, seldom seen since his early outstanding performances in the likes of Dazed And Confused, Lone Star and Frailty. So it's something of a shame that this new 'vehicle' doesn't live up to its fascinating passenger.

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Mick Haller is a rock star in the realm of defence lawyers. He rides in style in the back of the titular automobile, his connections and unbridled bragadoccio putting him more in line with a common pimp than an upholder of justice. His knack for picking apart cases is surpassed only by the shamelessly amoral hustling he'll resort to in order to close them. He is coerced into handling an attempted murder trial involving a prostitute and a rich realtor's son (Ryan Phillipe). Haller's initial faith in his client is soon tested as evidence mounts and revelations come forth, linking this crime to a case from the past and making him question his already shaky belief in his vocation.

Director Brad Furman mirrors his star in terms of style during the film's early scenes, a flashy credit sequence and lots of sun-kissed scenery selling the life of LA glamour that Haller appears to lead. Increasingly, he lets details of the lawyer's real life seep into the narrative, smartly fleshing him out without spelling it out and giving the film a depth that transcends its TV-show narrative. Haller's priorities may be all over the place - a condemning cop enquires: "How does someone like you sleep at night?" - but his dedication to his job is all too clear: he is seen at one point ignoring his daughter in favour of scrutinising evidence on a trip to the park, his chauffer and private dick pal left to entertain her.

His front crumbles as we spend more time observing him; his house is so humble that it reflects both his workaholic nature and his devotion to sheer showmanship. At one point his ex-wife, played by the ever-reliable Marisa Tomei, asks why they can't have a "friendly beer" and "not talk about work", before Furman has her throw a cheeky approbation of 3D cinema into their ensuing chat in one of the film's many flashes of sardonic wit.

As the facts of the case become clear, Haller finds himself embroiled in a chess match with the person he is supposed to be defending. McConaughey etches his character's agony onto his face, eyes sinking into their sockets and the life draining out of him as he realises his instincts for judging people may be out of tune. The actor carries the whole film on his shoulders, making it something more substantial than it appears to be as he wrestles with the notions of innocence and evil, having to come to terms with his own guilt and corruption, channeling them to put the right person in prison and keep his family out of danger. As something of a snake himself, it is exciting to see him dance with his own devils in order to ultimately do what is right.

The film's main weakness comes in the conventionality of its plot. The case really isn't that interesting, and while many talented actors crop up in supporting roles - William H Macy, John Leguizamo, Josh Lucas - they aren't given nearly enough to do. It's just as well, then, that Haller makes such an intriguing central character. The film is an adequately efficient thriller, though, just about managing to distinguish itself from its TV crime-drama brethren. As an adaptation of the first part of a trilogy of books, The Lincoln Lawyer lays the groundwork for McConaughey to really build on the good work he has done here. Having temporarily redeemed himself, let's hope he chooses to continue in this vein, and that Furman or someone else with a similar understanding of this kind of material can give Haller a better case to crack in the future.

Reviewed on: 23 Mar 2011
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A hot-shot lawyer finds he may be out of his depth with his latest client.
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