Directed by Brad Furman
Starring Matthew McConaughey, Marisa Tomei, William H. Macey, Josh Lucas, Ryan Phillipe, John Leguizamo, Michael Pena, Bryan Cranston, Michael Pare, Trace Adkins, Frances Fisher
Written by Jeff Romano, based on the novel by Michael Connelly
There is a feeling one gets while watching The Lincoln Lawyer is that of deja-vu. We’ve seen this movie many times before. The 90’s gave us a resurgence of courtroom drama mysteries, primarily by John Grisham. One of these, A Time To Kill, even starrred McConaughey himself. Grisham never used this formula in any of his plots, ironically enough only The Firm approaches this one’s plot. The most prevalent film that The Lincoln Lawyer copies is Primal Fear, which helped kick-start the career of Edward Norton. The best film from which this movie borrows its theme is Criminal Law. Gary Oldman is the hot-shot lawyer who gets his high-profile and rich (and guilty) client, creepily evoked by Kevin Bacon.
McConaughey and Phillipe carry these roles in The Lincoln Lawyer. Beyond these two, there is just about more acting talent than in any film in the last decade. Almost to a person, they bring their “A” games. Why? Courtroom dramas give plenty of gristle on which to chew. The one with the best gams here is McConaughey. He is pitch perfect as the pompous, smarmy lawyer with many connections and low morals. He has played this role almost his entire career, and he has it down. While not as powerful as Oldman’s crazed performance in Criminal Law, he is very good as the Tom Cruise of lawyers. From the R&B classic “Ain’t No Love In The Heart of The City,” we’re driven to the beat of Mickey Haller’s drum as the smooth talking lawyer of small time criminals. He’s got a lot of things going on, and you very quickly realize he uses these sources on each other. You also get a sense of community, too. He’s not entirely a bad guy, he just gets the “kind of” bad guys out with a slap on the wrists.
Given a tip on a hard case that could be a rainmaker, of sorts, he is drawn into a case with a spoiled 32-year-old (Phillipe) who is accused of assaulting a prostitute. This looks great at first, but invariably leads to the “He might have done it. I think he did it. Yep, he did it.” routine. This is a serviceable plot, to be sure, but it ain’t going to win anyone any awards. Phillipe, in particular, is unremarkable. His petulant rich boy does not ever come across as anything resembling innocence. Contrasted with Norton from Primal Fear, in particular, his performance wanes considerably.
The rest of the performances, from Tomei as Mickey’s still smitten (and who wouldn’t be?) ex-wife, William H. Macy as his resourceful investigator, to Frances Fisher’s rich mother, are rather ornate window dressing. It feels a touch like having a whole baseball team of number 3 hitters.
Director Furman has a rather distinctive style. His pacing is taut and he doesn’t linger over obvious territory. He puts as many style points as possible into this retread of material, kind of like Aerosmith taking a Rolling Stones riff, giving it their own stamp, and calling it “Sweet Emotion.” Sure it’s been done before, but the familiar groove feels right no matter the decade.
(***1/2 out of *****)