The Lincoln Lawyer

Movie Information

The Story: A slick lawyer gets hired to help a rich kid beat an assault rap, but quickly learns there's more to this case than he knew. The Lowdown: An engaging, convoluted, formulaic crime drama that's a bit on the flimsy side, but remains entertaining.
Genre: Crime/Courtroom Drama
Director: Brad Furman (The Take)
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Marisa Tomei, Ryan Phillippe, William H. Macy, Josh Lucas
Rated: R

There was a time—before his infamous naked bongo-playing, a long run of bad romantic comedies and showing up to the Oscars with a George Hamilton tan—when Matthew McConaughey was a respectable performer. And now, with Brad Furman’s The Lincoln Lawyer, McConaughey is making his bid to once again be taken seriously. And for the most part, he succeeds. It helps that this is a role tailor-made to McConaughey’s personality—vaguely likable, yet smarmy—as the film’s titular protagonist, Mick Haller.

Haller is a smooth-talking defense lawyer with a nose for working the system and hustling everyone around him. He also—as the title suggests—rides around in a black Lincoln sedan with his driver Earl (Laurence Mason, Hackers), who is the Morgan Freeman to McConaughey’s Miss Daisy. The film’s main strength is in its casting, from William H. Macy to Marisa Tomei. Even Ryan Phillippe is good, mainly because he’s shrewdly cast as Louis Roulet, a conniving, privileged, snotty rich kid. Phillippe was born to play conniving, privileged and snotty. The entire point of his character is to be unlikable, and Phillippe—who’s always been innately unlikable—is perfect to the point it feels like they’re stacking the deck.

The film’s plot is another stacked deck, all from the “Chekhov’s gun” school of writing. The gist of the story itself has Haller defending Louis on assault charges. Simple enough, except things are quickly revealed to be not what they seem. We then proceed, reel after reel, as literally every character arc and line of dialogue falls neatly into place. Nothing is wasted, and the film is occasionally clever in its clockwork plotting. But it too often feels forced and contrived—and a bit too convenient. Having never read Michael Connelly’s source novel, I can’t say how accurate an adaptation director Brad Furman’s film is, but I can say that it feels like a piece of best-selling fiction.

This isn’t necessarily a slight, but there’s nothing below the surface of the film, which is heavy on plot and little else. The closest thing we get to characterization is Haller’s struggles with his conscience, as his job regularly involves helping guilty criminals go free. Beyond that, The Lincoln Lawyer is little more than a straightforward crime drama. Luckily, it’s one that’s engaging enough in its twisting, manipulated plotting—a potboiler that’s nevertheless enjoyable. Rated R for some violence, sexual content and language.


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6 thoughts on “The Lincoln Lawyer

  1. I’m a sucker for a slick, middle-brow thriller with a good cast. They even got Bryan Cranston in there, although he only has about four lines.

  2. This is becoming a recurring bit between the two of us Ken.

    BREAKING BAD viewers know Mr. Cranston as everyone’s favourite high school chemistry teacher turned cancerous meth cook Walter White, possibly the finest drama show on TV. Your theory about Josh Lucas and McConaughey being the same guy was disproven in this picture, but mine about Cranston and William H Macy being the same guy was leant added credence by Cranston’s Detective character entering literally as soon as Macy’s PI character departs.

  3. Ken Hanke

    You could just say “TV actor, you wouldn’t know him.”

    And effects work being what it is today, I am unconvinced about Lucas and McConaughey being different people.

  4. You could just say “TV actor, you wouldn’t know him.”
    Yeah, but I wouldn’t say that, because I don’t classify people as ‘TV actor’ of ‘Movie actor’.

    Crantson’s been in a few dozen movies.

    Is Martin Sheen a TV actor? He did seven years of THE WEST WING. He’s also been in some movies, I believe.

  5. Ken Hanke

    Perhaps. You are keener on TV than I am, but you are also the one who identified this gent by telling me about a TV show he’s on.

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