Like many people, I have grown accustomed and pleasantly acclimatised to Matthew McConaughey as the romcom hero. I don’t ask for much – pleasant scenery (usually by or on the sea), chemistry with a beautiful blonde or brunette (usually Kate Hudson but Jennifer Lopez or Penelope Cruz do a good job), and a self-deprecating script that sees Matt get his comeuppance while also getting the girl and keeping excessive clothing to a minimum. The Lincoln Lawyer is nothing like that at all.
Fifteen years ago, Matthew McConaughey starred in A Time to Kill, alongside Sandra Bullock and Samuel L Jackson. That film, based on a courtroom novel by John Grisham, presented Matt as a lawyer who defends a black man accused of murdering the men who raped and brutalised his young daughter. It was well-received by audiences and critics alike – I know I still remember it. And all these years on, Matt has taken a break from a successful run of romcom hits to return to the genre, this time in a courtroom drama by Michael Connelly. This one is even smarter.
McConaughey plays a streetwise LA lawyer Mick Haller who conducts his business from the backseat of a Lincoln, driven by Earl (so well-played by Laurence Mason). More used to hookers and drug dealers, Haller is asked to defend the privileged Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe), accused of attacking a prostitute. This is just one side of the film. We also see Mick’s relationship with his detective Frank (William H. Macy) and his ex-wife Maggie (Marisa Tomei), a prosecutor, who can no longer cope with a man so ready to defend the guilty. During the course of The Lincoln Lawyer, Mick Haller is forced to reconsider his path through law. He may be likeable and popular but he is also lucky and selfish. He must now confront his greatest fears: first, that he cannot recognise innocence and secondly the realisation that evil scares him. It’s not so easy anymore.
As you’d expect from a good courtroom drama, this is a clever film and its is intense and exciting from start to finish. The twists are sharp, they’re unexpected and there are red herrings by the netload. I’m not going to give anything away here but, fitting the conventions of the genre, much revolves around the character of the defendant Louis. Is he all that he seems? As usual, Ryan Phillippe is as animated as a brown paper bag, with the acting socks to match, but in this role that works.
The supporting cast raises this film to another level. William H. Macy is a particular pleasure and is great in the role of the detective Frank, who also plays a more personal role in Mick’s life, helping him with his young daughter. Marisa Tomei, Mick’s ex-wife, is just as isolated and as well-oiled as he is, both facing their days in the courtroom with the help of Jack. I particularly enjoyed the supercool driver Earl and you know whenever he appears the soundtrack will step up a gear. The soundtrack is very good.
Matthew McConaughey may only take his shirt off once in The Lincoln Lawyer, not enough for a romcom, but for this clever, thrilling movie, all 2 hours and 20 minutes of it, it’s merely a bonus.