Lincoln Lawyer, The: Brad Furman’s Legal Thriller, Starring Matthew McConaughey

A commercial legal thriller, The Linclon Lawyer offers Matthew McConaughey a good role.

Modest, unpretentious, and mid-range, “The Lincoln Lawyer” is not particularly well directed, but its gripping plot makes you curious about its details and attentive enough to stay with it until the end.

After years of giving narcissistic performances, McConaughey delivers lead performance that serves the narrative rather than his ego, relying more on the text than on his gorgeous looks and shapely body; in most movies of the past decade, he was stripped to his waist.

Directed by Brad Furman from a screenplay by John Romano, based on the novel by Michael Connelly, every element of the production is modest, including the cast, which consists of good actors but no major stars: Marisa Tomei, Josh Lucas, John Leguizamo, Frances Fisher, Bob Gunton, Laurence Mason, Bryan Cranston and William H. Macy.

I have not read the popular novel upon which the screenplay is based, but my feeling is that the movie is quite faithful in contents and tone to the original source material.  “Lincoln Lawywe” is the kind of reliable, old-fashioned legal procedural that Hollywood has been doing for decades better than most other national cinemas.  These days, describing movies as old-fashioned is paying compliment to them.

McConaughey stars as Michael “Mick” Haller, a slick, charismatic Los Angeles criminal defense attorney who operates out of the back of his Lincoln Continental sedan, thus the title. It’s quickly established that he has been a minor player in the legal world, having spent most of his career defending petty criminals.

Things change when Mick unexpectedly lands what seems to be the case of a lifetime.  He is asked to defend a rich Beverly Hills playboy named Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe, well cast) who is accused of attempted murder.

Like most thrillers, things are not what they seem and appearances are deceptive.  Indeed, what initially appears to be a simple, even straightforward case, with a big money pay-off, quickly evolves (and devolves) into a deadly match, a cat and mouth race between two masters of manipulation, not to mention a crisis of conscience for Mick Haller.

McConaughey plays an eccentric but relatable lawyer, sort of an ambulance chaser, a type that most of us have met.  A streetwise defense attorney, Mick does not even have an office.  He works out of the backseat of a chauffeured Lincoln Continental, driving from one Los Angeles court house to another to defend various petty criminals who have run afoul of the justice system, such as prostitutes or men busted on drug charges.

Unlike other real and reel lawyers, Mick goes from one routine assignment to another, living from month to month, which make it difficult for him to support his ex-wife and his daughter.

Presenting the “unglamorous” side of the legal profession, “Lincoln Lawyer” centers on a wheeler-dealer type, a man who pleads out in most of his cases, making quick deals and then moving on.  The term move is most proper, for Mick is always using his Lincoln Continental as the optimal mobile office.   The car as office is a necessity for he often has to negotiate half a dozen cases at the same time, cases that are spread out in various court rooms across the county

That said, Mick is pragmatic but not immoral.  Guided by his own code of ethics, he is committed to helping the downtrodden, who have no one else on their side, and who need him the most. In other words, despite his routine, often sleazy work, Mick has not lost his heart or soul.

Thus, when Mick decides to defend Louis Roulet, a wealthy young man charged with attempted rape and murder, he does it for the promise of a quick resolution and some easy money.

The real fun begins when Mick realizes that the case is more complicated, challenging, and dangerous than he had assumed or expected.  It turns out that Louis Roulet might actually not only be guilty of the crime he’s charged for, but he’s also guilty of the rape and murder of another woman years ago.

The caveat is that Mick had defended the guy, who ended up getting wrongly convicted of that old crime.  Years later, still burdened by guilty conscience, he is determined to correct his mistake and free his innocent former client from jail.  Main obstacle is that the client-attorney privilege prevents him from using any evidence against Roulet, even if he has condemning proof of his guilt.

Torn between servicing two clients–one who’s serving the sentence for a crime committed by the other, Mick realize that one false move might cost him forever his license.   We get the impression that, for the first time in his life, Mick senses that everything that matters to him is at stake—his livelihood, his practice, and above all his personal integrity.