Matthew McConaughey almost falls into my guilty pleasure category. It’s the ultimate backhanded compliment to call someone or something a guilty pleasure. Sure you enjoy it, but isn’t there something about it that’s wrong? Why else would you need to feel guilty? Aside from being obvious eye candy, McCounaughey doesn’t bolster his resume or fortify his acting chops by taking roles that are too cutesy. The occasional romantic comedy is fine, but movies like Fool’s Gold and Sahara were largely forgettable. The first time I saw him in A Time to Kill I was impressed, so I know he’s got it in him. Having said that, his recent turn in The Lincoln Lawyer was a step in the right direction and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it. The reviews appeared mixed and it didn’t fare too well at the box office, so I was skeptical. Fortunately, a slick script, notable performances, and an above average cast made for a very enjoyable movie.
McCounaughey stars as Mick Haller, a silver tongued defense attorney who conducts business from the back of his Lincoln Town Car. I was reminded of Training Day because like Denzel Washington’s Alonzo Harris, Mick Haller cruises the L.A. streets like a badass in an old black car. A surface comparison, for sure – but you get the point. Mick wheels and deals, keeping it barely above board and raking in the dough along the way. His trusty driver Earl helps him maintain his street cred, as he negotiates with the likes of junkies and renegade bikers. He knows everyone around the courthouse, and his ex-wife (Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler) is a prosecutor. One of the courthouse grunts gives him a hot lead on a wealthy Beverly Hills client, and it sounds like a cant-miss case. The accused is Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe, recently of MacGruber), a rich young man with a wealthy mother and a potentially nasty penchant for brutalizing women. He was arrested for attacking a woman in her home after meeting her at a bar earlier the same night. He claims that the woman solicited him for sex, but when he showed up at her apartment he was knocked unconscious, and now he’s being framed so that she can shake him down for money. He refuses to plead to a lesser charge or serve any jail time, so Mick is forced to represent him zealously (as he should anyway. Sorry, that was the lawyer in me). It is clear from the outset that Roulet is entitled and narcissistic. I’ll clue you in that those personality traits aren’t uncommon in psychopaths. Mick ignores the red flags and carries on, but eventually things start to smell a little fishy. For starters, the courthouse grunt that put him on to the case lied about the circumstances. It turns out that Roulet asked for Mick specifically…now why would he do that? The answer is to manipulate his own attorney, which means there is more to this story. It’s not unbelievable that a hooker would hatch a scheme to swindle some money to leave her lifestyle behind. It’s also not unbelievable that a rich spoiled brat would be arrogant enough to think he could get away with anything, but where does the truth lay?
When I first saw the trailer for The Lincoln Lawyer, it reminded me of Fracture, which came out a few years ago. Anthony Hopkins and Ryan Gosling starred in that one, and it also involved a young lawyer, a grisly crime, and a bit of cat and mouse gamesmanship. I think The Lincoln Lawyer was much better, and the cast was very good. William H. Macy did a nice job as Mick’s affable investigator who is one step away from figuring it all out. The script had enough twists and turns to keep me interested without frustrating me. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s bad writing. I also hate cheesy performances, but thankfully McConaughey didn’t hit me over the head with his syrupy southern drawl or take his shirt off unnecessarily. He ably portrayed Haller as cocky and brash, but when things went south for his character he was able to tap into the desperation, panic, and frustration one would feel if their career and life were in jeopardy. He won’t be winning any awards for this performance, but who cares. It was very good movie, and one of the better ones I’ve seen in a while. I saw Limitless first, but The Lincoln Lawyer was better.