Courtroom dramas usually never fail to impress, especially when they star an actor known for playing a solid lawyer. Enter Matthew McConaughey as The Lincoln Lawyer, based on the popular novel by Michael Connelly. The story is rather generic but it’s transcended by note-worthy performances from McConaughey, Ryan Phillippe and Frances Fisher. Fans of the novel will also be pleasantly surprised by how faithful this adaptation is, although it does tend to extend the runtime out too much.
Mickey Haller (McConaughey) is a successful Southern California lawyer who does business out of his Lincoln town car. Known for helping the lowest of the low get back on the streets, Mickey gets the job of a lifetime representing Louis Roulet (Phillippe). Roulet is a millionaire playboy accused of attempted murder of a prostitute. In trying to prove Roulet’s innocence Haller discovers he might have a past connection to another murder, one that put a past client of Haller’s in prison for life. As it becomes more and more apparent that Roulet is guilty and an innocent man is sitting in jail, Haller will do whatever he can to right his wrong although it might come at the expense of his family.
As a fan of these courtroom procedurals there’s a lot to enjoy about The Lincoln Lawyer. I’ve never read the book personally but I did go with someone who had and apparently it’s extremely faithful, something that will please fans of the best-selling novel. The story of Roulet and his violent past is a compelling one, especially as the movie plays up what a good-looking, successful guy he is. If you’ve seen the trailers there’s no surprise that Roulet is guilty and it is revealed halfway through the movie. That doesn’t lessen the suspense though; instead you’re as determined as Haller is to see him go to prison. What makes Roulet such a terrifying villain is the man has everything, murdering women is purely a past-time. The movie doesn’t go too in-depth about his inner thought process but you definitely fear him as much as Haller does because he is terrifying. When the two characters go toe-to-toe the suspense is played perfectly. The actual courtroom scenes are well-written and developed as the audience knows it pains Haller to interrogate the victim who could have lost her life.
McConaughey and Phillippe are the two selling points for this movie and they do their jobs with aplomb. McConaughey always excels as a lawyer in the past and here he’s got swagger and determination in spades. Haller is a character who should be despicable, getting rich off putting drug addicts and bikers back on the street, yet you see it’s just a job for him. His greatest fear is of putting an innocent man in prison and when he discovers Jesus Martinez (Michael Pena) is that innocent man McConaughey turns the character into a tortured soul. If anything McConaughey should stick to the drama, plain and simple, because he is king in that arena. A surprise turn from Ryan Phillippe is seen here as the murderer Louis Roulet. Phillippe hasn’t shown his best work but here he is compelling as the good-looking, sadistic killer. His charm and sly grin hides a murderous back-story and even when he’s trying to be a good guy there’s an underlying malice. It’s hard to believe the guy from Cruel Intentions can make a stray comment about a little girl being pretty sound so disturbing. His confrontations with McConaughey are the best work both actors have done in awhile. Also strong but not getting a lot of screen time are Josh Lucas as a rival prosecutor and William H. Macy as Haller’s private investigator. Francis Fisher takes a role straight out of the Manchurian Candidate playing Roulet’s mother, a role that could have been campy but was well-done.
In this need to remain faithful to the novel there’s a lot in this movie happening at once. There is a literal all-star cast here and aside from the actors mentioned above there are appearances from Marisa Tomei, Bryan Cranston and John Leguizamo. All these actors get a fair amount of screen time making the movie creep to almost two hours. Aside from the murder trial you watch Haller’s past relationship with Maggie McPherson (Tomei) and his past with Michael Pena’s character. Some of these actors are in cameo roles and in the need to help them all shine a lot of this movie seems like filler. In discussing this with my aforementioned fan of the novel it was deduced that a lot of the subplots could have been dropped in favor of a stronger mystery.
The Lincoln Lawyer is a well-done courtroom procedural that holds two incredibly strong performances from its leading men. A bit long in the tooth with two many actors and subplots but fans of the book will probably be able to read along with the movie. See in theaters if you’re into the genre; definitely check it out on DVD if you aren’t.