Mark Reviews Movies

THE LINCOLN LAWYER

2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Brad Furman

Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Marisa Tomei, Ryan Phillippe, William H. Macy, Josh Lucas, John Leguizamo, Michael Peña, Bob Gunton, Frances Fisher, Bryan Cranston

MPAA Rating: R (for some violence, sexual content and language)

Running Time: 1:59

Release Date: 3/18/11


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Review by Mark Dujsik | March 17, 2011

He has the titular nickname because he runs his law firm from the backseat of his car—briefcase open next to him, documents spread out, assistant calling about cases while wearing a robe in bed, and driver bringing him from one courthouse to the next. His clients are, generally, guilty or at least give the very distinct impression that they are, but they are also able to pay him well. And he does well by them, never probing for too much information from them but insisting upon honesty. No matter what they've done, he almost always knows a way to improve their chances in the courtroom.

The Lincoln Lawyer is an instance of a distinct character who's pushed to the background of his own story in hopes that the existence of the gimmick of said character will somehow elevate whatever plot might come his way (Author Michael Connelly thought enough of this creation that the book upon which the movie is based is a spin-off of another series that featured the character). Since that plot starts off a trite he-said/she-said mystery and turns into an outlandish legal juggling act, that doesn't happen.

The mouthpiece in question is Mick Haller (Matthew McConaughey), a smug player (McConaughey does that act well) who lives criminal case to criminal case, representing such folks as a member of a motorcycle gang and a prostitute with a heart of silver. His personal life is a shambles—divorced (his ex-wife is played by Marisa Tomei) and a heavy drinker.

Mick's possible ticket to the big leagues comes in the form of Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe), a rich kid from a rich family who's been charged with the assault and attempted rape of a hooker he encountered at a bar. He says it's a setup—a way for a woman who's tired of her way of life looking to eventually sue him in civil court and have a big payday. Roulet's story is so convincing, even Mick thinks it's legit, and he's heard it all.

Questions, as they always do in these thrillers, arise, mostly about the nature of Roulet's story. Is he telling the truth? Then why did he imply he didn't have a knife when his is found, bloody, at the scene of the crime? Why did he specifically ask for Mick to hear his case? Who else is involved? Mind you, I didn't say they were good questions, and they become even stranger when the truth of Roulet's nature comes to light.

Mick is the kind of attorney who believes the worst kind of client is an innocent one, because, as his father told him, the thought of being part of the process of sending the wrong man to prison is enough to keep one up at night. He's had such a case, where the accused (Michael Peña) begged and pleaded with Mick that he was innocent, that comes back to mind. The attack on the woman pressing charges now looks a lot like the one that led to a murder for which his old client went to prison.

As is mandatory in such a plot, everything that happens and every character who enters will somehow help put together the pieces or create a new gap in the puzzle. Is the bail bondsman (John Leguizamo) who directs Mick to Roulet part of the conspiracy or just any innocent man who told a little, white lie? How quickly from the moment he appears on screen do we deduce the inevitable fate of Mick's private investigator (William H. Macy)? Will the two detectives (Bryan Cranston and Michael Paré) who have it out for Mick professionally actually serve a role of some sort beyond one's suspicion of Mick's involvement in a murder and a random discussion of the corruption in the justice system? The answers are: Who knows; immediately; and yes, though they're mostly there for false tension.

By the time the climactic courtroom scene, in which Mick makes the district attorney (Josh Lucas) assigned to the case an unknowing puppet in his own web of wildly complex deceit, arrives, much has happened to little effect.

That final sequence of The Lincoln Lawyer is an oddity. It depends on two things. First, it treats attorney-client privilege like some kind of magical blood oath, which, no matter the circumstances, will result in the disbarment, arrest, and spontaneous combustion of the lawyer who breaks it (Even if a client goes so far as to threaten the attorney and his family). Second, it turns Mick's quest for justice into the exact kind of miscarriage of it (complete with a Chekhov's motorcycle gang, of all things) that he protests so passionately earlier.

Copyright © 2011 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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