To reiterate some facts from my past review of Conviction, I will always remember wanting to be a lawyer more than anything for years growing up. It all started of course with reading John Grisham. Throughout junior high I was obsessed with his novels. Probably heavier reading than for most kids that age, but at least the profession was easier to achieve than anything floating around the other authors I was reading (Michael Crichton and Tom Clancy). Having never read a Michael Connelly novel, the film adaptation of his The Lincoln Lawyer just may make me sway his way.
I continued reading these types of books and still enjoy a healthy dose of Paul Levine, Tami Hoag, or even a nice procedural in the case of Thomas Harris or John Sandford here or there. Not to mention how much I love Kenzie/Gennaro series by Dennis Lehane. However, obviously as I sit here and write a review for another movie, boyhood dreams clearly did not pan out. Thankfully in the case of Michael Connelly, now maybe Hollywood will realize they can get adaptations of his novels correct. After the complete misfire that was Clint Eastwood’s Blood Work way back in 2002, The Lincoln Lawyer shines a light of hope.
In his sophomore outing, after a direct-to-video debut (The Take), director Brad Furman brings a sometimes hilarious, while most of the time quite intense courtroom drama/tale of redemption to the big screen in a big way. While writer John Romano’s last feature was the dismal Nicholas Sparks’ weepie Nights in Rodanthe, he reclaims himself beyond words with his adaptation of The Lincoln Lawyer. And just when you thought that Matthew McConaughey had completely devolved himself into another celebrity punchline, everyone brings their A-game and knocks all expectations out of the park.
In The Lincoln Lawyer, McConaughey portrays Mick Haller, a slightly sleazy, but ultra-slick lawyer who drives around from client to client with the help of his trusty driver, Earl (Laurence Mason). One morning he’s called in to the tank by bondsman Val Valenzuela (John Leguizamo, The Take) to meet with Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe) who’s just been slapped in the slammer for beating a prostitute to a pulp. Of course Louis swears he didn’t do it, but with the aid of his trusty investigator Frank Levin (William H. Macy), his ex-wife/fellow lawyer Maggie (Marisa Tomei), and a few similarities to a prior case involving a previous client, Jesus Martinez (Michael Peña), sentenced to life in San Quentin, Mick starts to fit the pieces together and gets caught up in a fight for his own life outside the courtroom.
Between his portrayal of Mick here and his appearance in Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder, McConaughey is finally making us remember why he rose to stardom in the first place (coincidentally along with another fellow costar in said film). Having not played a character like this since A Time to Kill and Amistad, it’s a return to his roots and he gives a revelatory performance finally making his name worthwhile on a poster again. Even Josh Lucas playing a prosecuting attorney (while making every scene seem like they were filmed with a mirror as he and McConaughey look way too similar) comes out a winner even if Ryan Phillippe still plays the same character he does in every film.
So while in my March preview I may have shrugged off The Lincoln Lawyer as “a movie you’ve never heard of,” here’s a film that plays more like Oscar fodder and seems out of place in the midst of a March releases. While we’ll have to see how long it remains in our minds as the year rolls on, and let’s not forget we’re only three months into 2011 so far, this is definitely one of the best films of the year thus far.
Photos courtesy Lionsgate