From out of no where “The Lincoln Lawyer” drives up, pulls you in and takes you for a spin. The film is a slick, stylish yet nuanced crime drama based on the best-selling novel by Michael Connelly. It stars Matthew McConaughey (“We Are Marshall,” “Sahara”) as Mick Haller, a Los Angeles criminal defense attorney who conducts at least some of his business from the back seat of a Lincoln sedan with a “NTGUILTY” license plate.
Haller has just accepted a case defending a wealthy Beverly Hills playboy named Louis Roulet, played by Ryan Phillippe (“Macgruber,” “Cruel Intentions”.) Roulet is accused of attempted murder but says he is innocent. Haller negotiates a big payoff with Roulet’s family and believes winning will be fairly straightforward. But soon, he discovers things may not be as they appear. Developments eventually lead to a crisis of conscience for Haller. Along the way, he gets a little help from his friend and investigator Frank, played by William H. Macy (“Fargo,” “Magnolia”). Haller is also recently divorced but is still hooking up with his ex-wife Maggie, played by Marisa Tomei (“Cyrus,” “The Wrestler”).
McConaughey’s Haller is charismatic but not without faults. He knows how to talk a good talk–but he also drinks too much and downs alka-seltzers often. McConaughey gives what is probably the best performance of his career in a role that seems tailor made for him. Honestly, I’ve never been a big fan of the actor, but with this performance, he has won me over. The entire cast is good, including Josh Lucas as the prosecuting attorney, John Leguizamo as a bail bondsman, Frances Fisher as Roulet’s mother, Bob Gunton as the family’s long-time attorney, Michael Pena and Shea Whigham as prison inmates (Whigham gets some big laughs in one of his scenes), and Laurence Mason as Haller’s driver. I mention all of these names because there’s not a bad performance in the lot.
The style of acting in “The Lincoln Lawyer” is not quite noir, not quite melodrama, but falls somewhere in that range. Credit goes to the cast and director for knowing exactly at which level to play these characters. The film is directed by relative new-comer Brad Furman (“The Take”). I believe his stylistic decisions here were risky, but the movie works. It’s as entertaining as any movie I have seen this year, and I personally can’t wait to see what Furman does next.
Admittedly, some aspects of the movie are not realistic. If plot holes bother you, you may be turned off. You might also guess a twist or two in the story. But throw all that out of the window and just go with it. The makers of “The Lincoln Lawyer” are in on a little secret: sometimes in movies, it’s the ride that matters.
Rating: 3 out of 4 stars
2011, Rated R, 118 minutes, Drama