'Lincoln Lawyer' a Thrilling McConaughey Showcase

Directed by: Brad Furman, Runtime: 118 minutes
Grade: B

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.

For the full Blu-ray review, head over to DVDTalk.com: [Click Here]


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