What’s Matthew McConaughey’s excuse for turning up in serious, gratifying roles onscreen so infrequently? It’s a phenomenon akin to a sighting of Halley’s Comet. In The Lincoln Lawyer, currently in cinemas, the actor is in scorching form as a hotshot criminal lawyer who takes on a new case that delivers enough zigzags to rival a winding staircase. As most cinephiles already know, McConaughey has tackled the lawyer-type before – in 1996’s terrific A Time To Kill, also starring Samuel L. Jackson and Sandra Bullock, based on the John Grisham bestseller.
In The Lincoln Lawyer (based on the Michael Connelly novel), he stars as Mickey Haller, a successful and street-smart defense attorney chauffeur-driven around his Los Angeles playground in a Lincoln town car by a former client working off his legal fees. Haller lands the most bizarre case of his career when a Beverly Hills playboy named Louise Roulet (Ryan Phillippe), the son of a real estate maven (Frances Fisher), is accused of the brutal assault of a hooker. The case initially appears simple and straightforward: Roulet is apparently innocent and was just at the wrong place at the wrong time.
But as Haller and his investigator Frank Levin (William H. Macy) closely consider the evidence, the case takes on a striking similarity to one of Haller’s past cases that landed a previous client, Jesus Martinez (Michael Peña), in jail for murdering a woman, though he maintains his innocence. As the pieces start falling into place, the case develops into a deadly game for Haller and those close to him.
In the hands of director Brad Furman, the film effectively melds moments of suspense with palpable dramatic tension to craft a riveting and superbly acted legal thriller. McConaughey is a smart choice for Haller, and he imbues the character with incredible self-assurance, courtroom cunning and a strong sense of family. (Marisa Tomei has a tiny role as prosecutor Maggie McPherson, Haller’s ex-wife and mother of his daughter). Few actors his age are as ideal as Phillippe to play Roulet, having had years of practice cast as entitled a-holes of privilege, most memorably in Cruel Intentions. Josh Lucas, Bryan Cranston and John Leguizamo round out the cast.
An energetic urban soundtrack pulses through the movie, lending it a gritty texture, as though to serve as a worthy companion to the story’s lethal pursuit of justice. Though The Lincoln Lawyer offers no major revelations or unique contributions to the courtroom-drama genre, for a film that runs at 119 minutes it boasts a brisk pace and satisfactorily ritzy entertainment value – and a compelling anchor in McConaughey.