Matthew McConaughey won the Best Actor Oscar this year for his performance in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (2013), and if you haven’t been paying attention, you might not have noticed that McConaughey has been steadily working his way through some pretty decent roles the past few years.
Take his role in THE LINCOLN LAWYER (2011), for example, where he plays Mick Haller, a smooth talking cooler-than-ice defense attorney who becomes the victim of an even smoother criminal.
I caught THE LINCOLN LAWYER on Blu-ray the other day, and I enjoyed it quite a lot. I especially enjoyed McConaughey’s dynamic performance as the indefatigable Mick Haller. McConaughey easily carries this movie from beginning to end.
In THE LINCOLN LAWYER, defense attorney Mick Haller (Matthew McConaughey) never met a client he didn’t like, or wouldn’t accept payment from, and he operates out of the back seat of his Lincoln town car, thus the film’s title, THE LINCOLN LAWYER. He’s none too popular with the local police department since he has a strong record of keeping even the most guilty-seeming clients out of jail.
When a young man Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe) accused of beating up a hooker personally asks for Haller to defend him, Mick thinks nothing of it, even though his friend and investigator-partner Frank (William H. Macy) tells him something about the guy rubs him the wrong way. But Mick is used to out-talking and outwitting everybody, so he takes on the case without fear, although he does wonder why Louis would ask for him when his mother Mary Windsor (Frances Fisher) is exceedingly rich and powerful and has an entire legal team at her disposal.
Mick prepares his defense with the argument that Louis is the victim of a scam by the hooker and an accomplice intent on setting up Louis for the crime so they could reap the benefits of an enormous settlement.
Things play out as planned until Frank uncovers some unsavory information about Louis that connects him to one of Mick’s prior cases, and suddenly Mick realizes why Louis chose him as his defense attorney, but this realization comes too late, as Mick’s family and friends are threatened, and Mick finds himself having to defend a man he knows is guilty not only of this charge but of a far more serious one.
THE LINCOLN LAWYER is a fun thriller with a likable character at its center. Attorney Mick Haller might not seem like the most likeable guy, but his energy is infectious, and he oozes confidence and charisma. As such, you can’t help but like the guy, and so when he’s targeted and double-crossed by another sly character, one who’s far more sinister than himself, you’re definitely rooting for him to succeed, and you want to see how he’s going to outsmart his adversary.
McConaughey imbues this guy with charisma and charm. His Mick is not a jerk or a weasel. He’s simply a player in the legal system, and he believes that all clients deserve to be defended. He just happens to be very good at what he does.
Taken as a whole, the film is somewhat uneven, as in addition to its main plot, which is good, it throws in a less than believable subplot involving Mick’s ex-wife Maggie (Marisa Tomei) who works for the District Attorney’s office. No, they don’t face each other in court. In fact, they’re hardly adversaries at all, and tend to get along splendidly as they work together to raise their young daughter. They work together so well it makes you wonder how they got divorced in the first place.
Tomei is fine in the role, although ultimately she doesn’t have a lot to do, and is saddled with some awful lines of dialogue, like when she looks at her sleeping daughter and turns to Mick and says, “At least we did one thing right.” No, by all accounts you two do a lot of things right. Why aren’t you still together?
Ryan Phillippe is icy cold as the defendant Louis Roulet who tries to outsmart his attorney Mick, but he’s a much more one-dimensional character than Mick and nowhere near as satisfying. The more the story goes along, the more we realize Louis is no match for Mick and it’s only a matter of time before his plan blows up in his face.
Even colder than Phillipe is Frances Fisher as Mary Windsor, Louis’ powerful and manipulative mother. I wish she had been in the movie more.
William H. Macy is very good as Mick’s friend and investigator, Frank, and Macy delivers his usual strong performance. Laurence Mason is also very good as Mick’s driver Earl, who helps Mick with more than just driving.
The film also features decent performances by Josh Lucas as the prosecuting attorney who’s in way over his head taking on Mick, John Leguizamo as Val, the bondsman who introduces Mick to Louis, Michael Pena as Jesus Martinez, the former client of Mick’s who is now in jail in spite of his claims of innocence, and Bob Gunton as Cecil Dobbs, the head of Mary Windsor’s legal team.
Strangely, only Bryan Cranston fails to impress, as he’s stuck in a brief throwaway role as police detective Lankford. It’s the first time I’ve seen Cranston in a movie without being wowed, but this has less to do with his performance than with the brevity of the role.
For the most part, the screenplay by John Romano, based on the novel by Michael Connelly, succeeds. Its main story is very good, as the battle of wits between Mick and Louis is compelling.
Director Brad Furman does a nice job at the helm, making this one as slick and as polished as Mick’s Lincoln. Furman would go on to direct RUNNER, RUNNER (2013), starring Ben Affleck, and I found both films very similar in terms of quality.
Matthew McConaughey is the best part of THE LINCOLN LAWYER. While the rest of the film is a mixed bag, its talented cast and decent story make this one a more satisfying “mixed bag” than most.