Review by Bob Ignizio
It sometimes seems like the only American movies made for adults these days are low key indie dramas or convoluted meditations on what is or isn't real. That's fine if you enjoy that sort of thing, provided it's done well. But there's an audience out there of people in their 40's and beyond who would just like a decent story with a little action and a strong cast, helmed by a director who understands that the focus should be on those things and not the flashy, artistic camera moves they picked up back when they were shooting music videos and commercials. The kind of movie people like my parents would like to see, and I say that without any hint of dismissiveness. It is this kind of movie that THE LINCOLN LAWYER aspires to be, and to a fair degree it succeeds.
Matthew McConaughey is Mick Haller, the sort of criminal defense attorney most people are thinking of when they say they hate lawyers. He actually prefers defending guilty clients because, if he loses and they go to jail, it won't bother him nearly as much as if he had lost while defending an innocent man. Haller doesn't lose much, though, leading to characters making the usual complaints leveled against those in his profession about how he lets scum walk the streets.
Haller's most recent client, however, absolutely professes his innocence. Louis Roulett (Ryan Phillipe) has been charged with assault for beating and very nearly killing a girl. There's no getting around the fact that he went back to her apartment, or that he was later found there by the police covered in blood after being knocked unconscious by the woman and restrained by a couple of neighbors. But Roulett claims he is being framed, and there is a fair amount of evidence which points to that being the case. THE LINCOLN LAWYER isn't really a whodunnit, though. We learn early on who the guilty party in the assault is. Rather, this is more of a thriller in which the assailant plays a game of cat and mouse with McConaughey's character, trying to frame him for another murder even as he has to mount a defense for Roulett.
McConaughey is the perfect choice to make a character like Haller palatable to an audience, conveying intelligence, charm, and amorality in equal measure, with just a hint of goodness under the surface. The female lead in movies like these is often a thankless throwaway part, but in this case the script actually gives Marissa Tomei the chance to do some good work as Haller's ex-wife (a prosecuting attorney, of course). John Leguizamo, William H. Macy, and Bryan Cranston, gifted actors all who never fail to create memorable characters even in unmemorable films, come through once again.
Brad Furman's direction doesn't call attention to itself, but neither is it flat or dull. It's just solid, meat and potatoes storytelling that works in the service of the script and the characters. The only sequence that tries for anything approaching style is the opening credits, most likely filmed by someone else. Furman's only major misstep is a love scene between McConaughey and Tomei. It's sloppily edited and delivers zero heat. We're not dealing with anything close to a great work of cinema here. That's all but impossible with a plot that's the stuff of generic best-selling summer potboiler novels, which is exactly what this was originally. Still, the film's 2 hour running time passed by agreeably enough, and I left the theater feeling reasonably entertained, even if I can't imagine a scenario in which I'd ever bother watching this again. 2 1/2 out of 4 stars.