From the back of his '80s-model Lincoln Town Car, Mick Haller (Matthew McConaughey) persuasively explains to a rough-and-tumble biker that he needs an extra $5-10,000 for extraneous services in a pertinent court case. After they come to an agreement, the street-savvy lawyer takes an envelope from the biker and shakes it to hear the bills within, prompting the burly leather-clad brute to ask if he's going to count it. "I just did", Mick says, followed by a sheepish wink and a sly grin. The fact that the typically-shirtless female magnet McConaughey exudes smooth-talking legalese through a Southern drawl might make the moment sound trite; assuming that face-value outlook on The Lincoln Lawyer would lead one astray, though, since in the context of director Brad Furman's shrewdly gripping take on Michael Connelly's legal thriller, it fits as a charismatic, dual-purposed glimpse at a sly character's machinations.
The Lincoln Lawyer sketches out Mick Haller as a thriving street-level defense attorney, following behind as he slips through courthouses on tips from acquaintances -- bailiffs, bondsmen, and others. Only he's no Robin Hood-caliber hero letting wrongly-accused crooks and junkies off; he knows who he's dealing with, aware that his slick demeanor and legal knowledge release less-than-savory individuals. But as long as he gets paid and retains a grasp on true innocence and guilt, he's alright with being the adept a-hole that most people hate since he releases semi-villains on the streets. And, even considering that, he still earns a shred of empathy, especially once we're introduced to his ex-wife (Marisa Tomei) -- a prosecutor, oddly -- and his daughter. Watching Mick work his magic through the streets of LA becomes entertaining on its own terms, before the story approaches its suspenseful axis.
One of Mick's tips leads him towards Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillipe), a real estate dealer from a wealthy family who's caught in an accusation of brutality: a near-death rape and bludgeoning of a prostitute, where the details expectedly collide between his account and the story that the girl's spinning. The Lincoln Lawyer treads finely-tromped ground as it drags Mick into an investigation cluttered with upper-crust secrets and above-the-law scurrying about, which snaps leap-stretching bursts of evidence together into a legalese framework that fall short of practicality. Yet the clues surrounding the separate accounts in the case -- forceful scenes of violence draped in faux-aged grit -- entertain as an off-the-cuff potboiler should by relishing in expository twists for the whiplash they exact, more a coarse modern-era sprucing of the Perry Mason model instead of a momentous rumination like The Verdict.
Matthew McConaughey travels through familiar ground by tapping into the focused eyes and perceptive temper that bolstered Joel Schumacher's A Time to Kill, yet he also brings an aged charisma to Mick Haller that validates the double-dealing lingo of a snaky street lawyer. His rapport with Ryan Phillipe drives The Lincoln Lawyer, though; emphasizing the anxiety between a frantic defense attorney and his unruly client, Louis' petulant disposition is just edgy enough to make his presence disquieting, even if Phillipe musters little more than a psychologically-rattled take on Sebastian from Cruel Intentions. It works, though, mostly because of McConaughey's capacity to grasp Mick's threshold, which heightens into frustrated, sweaty paranoia over client-lawyer confidentiality as the story lashes to and fro around the facts unearthed by Mick's investigator, Frank (William H. Macy).
While the structure remains content with its resemblance to other courtroom dramas -- get to know the case-solver, get to know the case, then watch as the developments funnel into a court of law -- Furman's direction handles it with enough self-effacing polish and awareness of its own motivations to keep it engaging. Framed within tight-zoomed close-ups that aim for a realistic feel similar to The Shield and other crime-scene television series, it descends into anticipated knee-jerk developments once submerged in legalese, capturing 11th hour revelations and out-of-court scampering to give it a fair for the theatrical. There's nothing present here that someone hasn't seen if they're seasoned in the genre, yet it all comes down to the brisk momentum it generates within the framework and the way McConaughey propels the energy. And as Mick, he's found a involving deviation from his routine of flighty bare-chested gallivanting, a return of sorts to the substantive turns from earlier in his career.
The Lincoln Lawyer arrives from Lionsgate in a double-disc presentation -- one Blu-ray for the film itself, and a second bare-boned DVD of the film. A shiny slipcover adorns the outer packaging, replicating the back and front of the artwork. Along with that, a Digital Copy code for the film has also been made available, for use with iTunes.
Video and Audio:
The Lincoln Lawyer cruises through the streets of LA with a focus on soft blues and rich tans, captured with consistent motion by Battle: Los Angeles cinematographer Lukas Ettlin. Lionsgate's high-definition rendering catches hold of the movement and maintains a clear eye on the 2.35:1-framed film, grabbing hold of the shifting palette choices -- orange filters during nighttime rendezvous, cooler slate-leaning greens and blues in jails, and a sun-baked pinkness during the Town Car travel shots -- and fine detail in motion. The wood grains and sterile lights hold true during the courtroom sequences, with the velvety properties of the Red One camera work in full-force at capturing the sheen on suits and contrast fluctuations -- a flatter texture occasionally, but mostly razor-sharp. It's a film with a slew of close-ups between McConaughey and the the rest of his cast, grabbing at tight facial textures and warm skin balance to extremely pleasing degrees, and Lionsgate's nimble HD rendering is certainly up to task.
A lot of activity fills the film's sound design, from crashing glass and the pulsing music to the wide vocal range from the supporting cast, and the 7-channel DTS HD Master Audio track encapsulated it all in a natural, crisply adept presentation. The echo of voices in prison environments hold awareness of stony walls and ambient effects, while other subtle sound effects -- knocking against a window, actual music in a bar, the revving of a car engine -- traverse crisply from the front channels to the rear. Cliff Martinez's pulsing music flutters to the lower-frequency channel more than most of the other effects, though some of McConaughey's thicker-accented and fuller-voiced deliveries dip into the bottom quite clearly. It's an extremely strong, modernly-polished aural presentation that delivers beat for beat with the excellent visual treatment. Optional English and Spanish subs accompany the English language track.
Making the Case: Creating The Lincoln Lawyer (13:40, HD AVC):
As a standard rundown of interviews, this EPK-level piece reveals a cluster of interesting bits while going through the motions. It reveals how long the film was in development and the length of McConaughey's involvement and how he and Ryan Phillipe had practically no rehearsal time before shooting the film (on purpose), as well as the genesis of writer Michael Connelly's protagonist. Josh Lucas also talks a bit about the similarities between he and McConaughey, and how their dispositions contrast in the film.
Michael Connelly: At Home on the Road (10:16, HD AVC):
Connelly takes us on a car ride around Los Angeles while voiceover gives some background on his history -- influences, writing gigs, and others. He then follows to influential spots around town while offering commentary and facts about the legal system, as well as the influence that Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye had on his writing career. It's an insightful low-key exploration of the author, and worth a watch.
Also available are a One on One (5:28, HD AVC) conversation between Michael Connelly and Matthew McConaughey while in the Los Angeles courtroom from the film, as well as a few Deleted Scenes (4:07, HD AVC).
No new trails have been blazed with The Lincoln Lawyer, but Brad Furman's steady-handed direction elevates the conventional legal thriller framework into a magnetic, gritty take on Michael Connelly's potboiler. Matthew McConaughey claims the brunt of the draw as a confident defense attorney, delivering a focused performance through a deft mix of snaky lawyer speak and endangered paranoia. The sharp twists feel a little aggressively orthodox and some of the exposition around the spoiled-rich-kid-in-legal-trouble dynamic clunks along, but it still generates a hefty amount of gripping suspense within its comfort zone. Lionsgate's Blu-ray retains the stylish look and pulsating sound design for this rather exquisitely-presented package, while a few decent interviews fill out the other quadrants of the disc. Strongly Recommended