Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Brad Furman
Stars: Mathew McConaughey, Ryan Phillipe, Marisa Tomei, Bryan Cranston, William H Macy, Frances Fisher, Laurence Mason.
This adaptation avoids many of the pitfalls that have ruined many other movie adaptations of popular, best selling novels. Although the two are different mediums, audiences familiar with the source will still come to the film with preconceived notions about the characters and the story. The Lincoln Lawyer is based on the 2005 novel written by prolific crime writer Michael Connelly, a purveyor of police procedurals and LA-based noir, best known for his series of novels featuring the unorthodox detective Harry Bosch. Despite his prolific output, only one of his novels has been filmed – Blood Work, which starred Clint Eastwood as a former FBI profiler who underwent a heart transplant and then tried to catch a serial killer who killed his donor.
With The Lincoln Lawyer Connelly crossed confidently into John Grisham territory and delivered a gripping, sinuously plotted courtroom thriller about a lawyer caught up in an ethical dilemma during the biggest trial of his career. Veteran crime writer John Romano (tv’s Monk, Hill Street Blues, etc) remains reasonably faithful to Connelly’s novel, and much of the cracking dialogue is lifted straight from the source.
Matthew McConaughey is perfectly cast as Mickey Haller, a slick lawyer who does business from the back seat of his Lincoln town car – it cuts down on overheads – whose vanity number plate says NTGUILTY. He is a bottom feeder of the legal system, trolling through courthouses and jails for his business amongst the usual drug dealers, hookers and bikies and other low life that make up his clientele. Haller is a slick hustler who usually manages to make deals for his clients without having to set foot in the courtroom.
But he feels his luck has changed when he lands Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe) for a client. Louis is a millionaire realtor who has been charged with the brutal assault of a prostitute who was trying to fleece him. It seems a pretty straightforward case as Roulet vehemently protests his innocence. But midway through the trial, Haller learns that the ground rules have changed, and that his client may well be guilty. And even worse, he may have gotten away with murder in the past. Haller finds himself faced with an ethical dilemma that could end his career. But he also finds himself and his family placed in danger as he tries to work his way through the legal quagmire.
McConaughey is nicely laconic, glib as the slick, cocksure and smarmy Haller. He gives one of the better performances of his career, and shows what he can do on screen when he moves away from the vapid romcoms. His role here is also reminiscent of his early turn as a lawyer in the Grisham adaptation A Time To Kill.
McConaughey is backed up by a strong supporting cast that gives life to the material. Marisa Tomei is smart and sexy as Haller’s ex-wife, a lawyer who works for the district attorney’s office, but who still retains some measure of affection for him. Josh Lucas is good as the prosecutor. Phillippe is convincingly cold and chilling as Roulet, but he also brings a calculated charm to his performance. William H Macy stamps his presence on his role as Frank Levin, Haller’s sardonic investigator with an unfashionable mullet. Laurence Mason brings a touch of humour to his role as Earl, Haller’s chauffeur. Francis Fisher is also good as Roulet’s possessive and protective mother. Bryan Cranston (from Malcolm In The Middle and the Emmy-winning Breaking Bad, etc) is solid as a tough detective with an intense dislike for Haller’s style.
Brad Furman (The Take, etc) directs the material with a slick visual style, using lots of rapid jump cuts that bring a sense of energy to otherwise static scenes. The courtroom scenes fairly crackle with tension. Cinematographer Lukas Ettlin (Battle: Los Angeles, etc) captures the less glamorous side of Los Angeles. His predominantly brownish colour palette gives the material a suitably sleazy look, and The Lincoln Lawyer feels similar in tone to thrillers like Jackie Brown or Out Of Sight.
There are plenty of courtroom pyrotechnics here to satisfy fans of the genre, while the numerous plot twists will keep audiences hooked for much of the duration. The star presence of the cast also provides plenty of pleasures for this above average crime drama.