At one time, Matthew McConaughey was viewed as the next big thing. Emerging from a notable turn in the cult classic and 1993 stoner-comedy “Dazed and Confused”, McConaughey landed a high profile role in the 1995 John Grisham adaptation, “A Time To Kill.” He exhibited charm and charisma, a Southern drawl that women swooned for with the looks to match. And he presented as a confident and effective actor, someone whose star was quickly on the rise. Follow up work in “Amistad” and “Contact” furthered his credibility and then he landed his first romantic comedy, 2001′s “The Wedding Planner” opposite Jennifer Lopez. Springboarding from that rom-com success to the next and the next, often to diminishing box office figures, McConaughey nevertheless spent much of the 2000′s as the de facto romantic comedy leading man. After a break away from the big screen for a couple of years, McConaughey has returned to dramatic work and “The Lincoln Lawyer” succeeds in restoring much of what made McConaughey so appealing to moviegoers in the 1990′s.
Playing a lawyer for the third time in his career, following the aforementioned “…Kill” and “Amistad”, McConaughey’s Mickey Haller is a cunning and street smart criminal defense lawyer who knows the ins and outs and the highs and lows of his profession. With a suspended license, presumably because of a DUI, and a healthy drinking problem to boot, Haller operates out of the back of his Lincoln sedan and employs a trusted driver, Earl (Laurence Mason) to take him around. Haller works long hours into the night and is constantly moving from case to case until a huge client falls into his lap courtesy of Val, a bail bondsman (John Leguizamo).
The client is Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe) and the Roulet family are wealthy and high profile real estate moguls. Roulet is charged with the attempted murder and brutal assault on a prostitute he meets in a bar (Margarita Levieva). Roulet denies any wrongdoing and claims that upon arriving at the prostitute’s apartment, he was attacked, blacked out, and was himself the victim of an assault. When Haller questions Roulet’s story, Roulet vehemently protests his innocence and demands Haller take him to trial and put him on the stand. The Roulet family pay Haller’s inflated retainer and Haller suddenly has a potentially career-defining case.
As you would expect with a crime/courtroom thriller, things are hardly as they appear and “The Lincoln Lawyer” takes many twists and turns, most of them effective ones. Haller relies on his best friend, private investigator Frank (William H. Macy), to dig into the events of the night when the alleged assault took place. As Frank and Mickey uncover similarities to a case Haller worked on nearly 15 years previously, inconsistencies start to crop up in Louis’ story and Mickey realizes this case may have placed him in more danger than he, and his friends and family, have ever experienced before.
McConaughey is quite good here and much of the cast deliver strong and assured performances. William H. Macy is terrific as the wide-eyed and excitable investigator Mickey relies on. Marisa Tomei’s Maggie McPherson is a tough prosecutor who shares a child with
Mickey and deep down has a love for Mickey. She struggles to respect him, and herself, when she falls for him time and time again. Their co-dependent relationship lends a unique and effective vulnerability to their characters and the on screen happenings. Josh Lucas also stands out as the prosecuting attorney, Minton, who proudly, if not somewhat naively, brings the Roulet case to trail. Ryan Phillippe delivers a hit and miss performance which works at times and distracts in others. He is a tightly wound ticking timebomb of a human being, defiantly boasting of innocence, while trying to use his wealth and status in life to manipulate the situation he finds himself in. I’m not entirely sure I bought Phillippe’s performance but in the context of the film, it holds together adequately enough.
“The Lincoln Lawyer” plays like those 1990s Grisham-era crime adaptations that made lots and lots of money at the box office. In their heyday, the sheer volume of those films began to grow tiresome, but the genre feels fresh and revived again for much of the film’s running time. The main issue with “The Lincoln Lawyer” comes in the crucial final 15-20 minutes, where the film clunks and downshifts into a series of mediocre and halfhearted moments that seem out of sorts with the rest of the film. John Romano’s screenplay seems to not know how to button things up and disappointingly cobbles together some sudsy melodrama that the film fails to present in a powerful way. It mutes the effectiveness and when the credits hit the screen, I caught myself more focused on the rough finish, as opposed to the suspenseful, engaging mystery I just tried to piece together along with Mickey and his team.
With that said, there is really much to like about “The Lincoln Lawyer”. The mystery holds up (mostly) and the movie is a lot of fun to play along with. The twists and turns keep you engaged and while you may focus on what might have been when the film concludes, you’ll relish the experience and should not be at all disappointed if Mickey Haller happens to make another appearance on the big screen someday.