By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
The title refers to a guy who operates not in the mold of a president but in the back of a car.
The Lincoln Lawyer is a mainstream mystery suspense thriller that stars Matthew McConaughey (above left) as the titular attorney and brings him back from whatever level of movie-star hell he’s been phoning his narcissistic roles in from for the last decade.
Headliner McConaughey has specialized of late in shallow vehicles that just ask him to show up, look good, and not trip over the gaffer’s cables (How To Lose a Guy in Ten Days, Sahara, Two for the Money, Failure to Launch, Fool’s Gold, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past). So perhaps it’s not a bad idea for him to play a lawyer as he did so effectively 15 years ago when he was getting our attention in A Time To Kill.
So call this a comeback for McConaughey. Not a knocking-our-socks-off-and-sniffing-an-Oscar comeback, but a return-to-respectability-and-reminder-that-he-has-talent comeback.
We’ll take it.
McConaughey portrays Mickey Haller, an unprincipled and manipulative but charming and effective Los Angeles criminal defense attorney who defends an array of lowlifes and bottom feeders while operating out of the back seat of a chauffeured Lincoln Town Car sporting a license plate that reads NTGUILTY.
And he’s ntkidding.
His latest client is Louis Roulet, the son of a prominent businessman played by Ryan Phillippe (at right in photo), a playboy from Beverly Hills accused of rape and attempted murder.
But as the case proceeds, surprises spring up and layers unravel.
Marisa Tomei plays Haller’s ex-wife, a prosecuting attorney, and the accomplished supporting cast also includes William H. Macy as an investigator, John Leguizamo as a bail bondsman, Bryan Cranston as a police detective, Josh Lucas as an opposing attorney, Frances Fisher as the defendant’s wealthy mother, and Michael Pena as an incarcerated ex-defendant of Haller’s.
In his second directorial outing, Brad Furman (The Take) gets strong ensemble work from his large cast, giving an impressive number of them the chance to make a vivid impression in relatively little screen time and suggest a life before and after their appearance on screen, with McConaughey anchoring the proceedings in fine style.
John Roman’s screenplay, adapted from the best-selling crime novel of the same name by Michael Connelly, sprinkles just enough twists and turns along the way as it examines the underbelly of the legal system, and includes an interesting if superficial exploration of the attorney-client privilege concept and employs legal loopholes in intriguing fashion.
And McConaughey, bringing his charisma and thespian ability into the courtroom rather than the fashion-shoot posing he’s been doing too much of lately, moves from the back seat to the front by using his brains and talent sufficiently to make this a no-brainer for us, even if the plot unfolds with the formulaic deliberateness of a television pilot.
So we’ll bring in a guilty-pleasure verdict of 2½ stars out of 4 for the bracingly pulpy and undeniably absorbing legal procedural, The Lincoln Lawyer. This is old-fashioned big-screen entertainment that smells of popcorn and takes us for a diverting two-hour drive.