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Movie Review: The Lincoln Lawyer (R)

LLBy: Roxana Hadadi

I could never take my parents to see “The Lincoln Lawyer.”

Don’t get me wrong – the film is great, finally proof for me that there is actually a good actor underneath Matthew McConaughey’s ridiculously toned muscles and beautiful sun-kissed skin. But after four years, I’ve finally convinced my parents that law school is not for me, despite my constant reading of John Grisham novels (don’t hate on mass-market paperbacks!) and watching of countless episodes of “Law and Order.” With that small victory finally in hand, I’m not trying to help my parents watch a tricky thriller that validates the legal profession – it would only give them ideas.

So my personal concerns aside, “The Lincoln Lawyer” (based on the same-named 2005 novel by Michael Connelly) is fantastic, a fully satisfying drama for grownups that offers solid performances, witty dialogue and more than enough twists to keep you guessing about who will win in this cat-and-cat game. There are no mice here; everyone’s a player – and everyone holds up well, even with limited screen-time. William H. Macy’s character is only in half the film; Shea Wigham (whom parents may recognize from HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire”) only appears in a few scenes; Marisa Tomei’s main responsibility is to ooze sexiness – and yet they help round out a strong cast that supports McConaughey in his best role since 1996’s “A Time to Kill,” in which he also played an attorney. Since then, he’s just become eye candy, a waste of his impressive ability to use his distinctive drawl for both sinister menace and undeniable charm.

So much menace! So much charm! McConaughey injects each into his portrayal of Michael “Mick” Haller, a defense attorney criss-crossing the streets of Los Angeles in his black Lincoln Continental sedan. Chauffeured by driver Earl (Laurence Mason), Mick meets with clients – like a drug-producing motorcycle gang – on the sides of roads and ended a relationship with prosecutor Margaret (Tomei) because of their disagreements about the justice system. With tons of city employees feeding him information for a price, Mick suddenly ends up with a new client, rich and spoiled bachelor Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe). Accused of assaulting and attempting to rape a woman, Louis hires Mick and insists on his innocence, refusing to take any plea deals. His story of being set up by the woman, who ended up with severe beating on one side of her face and various cuts, for money seems plausible, and Mick buys it – at first.

But after some digging by Mick’s main investigator, best friend Frank (Macy), and some cracks in Louis’s story about that night, the lawyer begins to wonder if the good-looking guy who net $600,000 working for his mother’s real estate company last year may have something to hide. As he struggles to determine whether he can trust his own client, Mick’s ideas about what define justice and his role in that system are threatened, too.

After years of watching McConaughey in terrible action films, like 2005’s “Sahara,” and equally bad romantic comedies, like 2006’s “Failure to Launch,” it’s an undeniable delight to see him dig into the drama in this role. Mick is a smooth-talker who can wink and grin his way out of any situation, but as the case weighs on him, he becomes a tortured guy struggling to keep both is professional and personal lives together – and McConaughey is perfect at it. He’s equally believable when slobbering and drunk versus sleep-deprived and frantic, and of course we all know he’s good at being handsome and charismatic. The character’s switch from seemingly caring only about money to reconsidering his priorities may seem sudden, but McConaughey makes it work, especially because he ensures Mick retains a hard edge – a disregard for all the rules, a willingness to take necessary (if not-so-legal) risks. There’s a trust we have in the character that helps give “The Lincoln Lawyer” the humanity a legal thriller like this needs.

Was Phillippe the perfect choice for Louis? He became famous for playing another over-privileged pretty boy back in the day – Sebastian in 1999’s “Cruel Intentions” – and his character here is kind of like if Sebastian never truly fell in love, instead continuing with meaningless sex and debauchery. In that way, his smirking egoism and calm, collected threats are effective, but the film’s courtroom scenes seem heavy-handed, especially when Louis loudly and emotionally proclaims his innocence. Did we really need close-ups of visibly shaken jurors, and long pans of their shocked faces? It feels like overkill, especially since the rape-and-murder material here is affecting enough.

“The Lincoln Lawyer” is rated R, and since a lot of the film is about serious criminal activity, it’s not suitable for younger teens; older ones, however, could probably handle it with parents. There is cursing, discussion of drug sales and a fair amount of violence, such as the memory of an attempted rape, a beating, a stabbing and a few murders. You see a corpse which has been stabbed dozens of times; a man who’s been shot in the head; and a shoot-out between two characters. There is also some sexual content: a scene in a strip club with scantily clad dancers and a lap dance; detailed discussions of rape and sex by witnesses during the trial; and one implied sex scene. You see the characters intensely make out with some groping, and then the rest is left to your imagination until you see them in bed together the next morning.

This may not be a completely appropriate film for all teens, but for parents, “The Lincoln Lawyer” is a dramatic boon, one of the few thoroughly engrossing films to be released so far this year. Sure, McConaughey doesn’t show off his bod too often in the film – but if only he had chosen films this good earlier in his career, maybe we wouldn’t have had to wait until 15 years after “A Time to Kill” to see him really act again.


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