For whatever reason, Hollywood is a place that starts moving faster and faster at every opportunity. Matthew McConaughey strikes one as a person who views acting as a lark, something relatively respectable to do between biking and surfing. His agent says, "do some work," and he picks the best script on his desk. For about a decade, "best" has been a string of Kate Hudson comedies, but there have been times when that script was something more than pratfalls and hijinks, and the actor has usually been up to the task. The Lincoln Lawyer is, on all fronts, a pretty standard legal thriller, but it's got a solid cast up to and including McConaughey, serving as a reminder that the man is better than the roles he often chooses.
Garnering his name from the black Lincoln he rides around in, Mick Haller (McConaughey) is one of the slickest criminal lawyers in town. He avoids B.S., takes cases he can win, and costs a hefty chunk of change. On a tip from his bail bondsman buddy (John Leguizamo), Mick takes on his richest client yet: Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe), a real estate broker with multiple millions in his bank account. Louis is accused of viciously beating a prostitute (Margarita Levieva), a charge he fervently denies, but Mick's investigation into Louis reveals secrets that put Mick into an impossible situation.
As a story and as a piece of direction, The Lincoln Lawyer is no great shakes. The plot twists are interesting and engaging while the movie is going, but none of it goes any deeper than the surface elements. Director Brad Furman sounds like a Hollywood success story on paper, too, having risen from being Julia Roberts' assistant on films like Erin Brockovich to a cushy helming job with major stars, but his efforts here are purely pedestrian. The rise of digital color timing has given cinematographers the ability to make any shot, taken at any time, look like a network television pilot trying to squeeze a few more imaginary dollars into the budget, and The Lincoln Lawyer does exactly that. Is nobody satisfied with natural lighting anymore?
What holds the movie together is McConaughey and the supporting cast, which includes, in addition to those already mentioned, Marisa Tomei, William H. Macy, Bob Gunton, Frances Fisher, Josh Lucas, Bryan Cranston, Michael Pare and the underrated Michael Pena, all of whom contribute greatly to the movie's momentum. Lawyer is all about keeping the audience on the story's hook, and each of the actors, some of whom are only in the movie for a scene or two, all give what they can in their moments. If only all of the actors in Hollywood's ensemble thrillers were as good at picking their moments.
Of all of them, McConaughey has the trickiest job in the movie. In the opening scenes, Mick is allowed to coast on the actor's natural charisma, displaying a perfect burst of crowd-pleasing self-salesman charm, flashing his smile, cracking a few jokes. By the time Mick reaches the courtroom, however, he's in a moral bind. He needs to offer all of his skills to Roulet, whether he wants to or not, and it's surprising how clearly McConaughey conveys the difference between the willing and reluctant versions of Mick's persona to the audience watching the film without revealing it to the characters in the movie. Doubtful the actor will win any Oscars for it, but it's a neat trick. Maybe if The Lincoln Lawyer is a modest success, we'll get to see more of them.
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