Matthew McConaughey is one of those actors that you just love even though they don’t really do that many good movies. He’s done a handful over the years, maybe three or four, and he’s a man who makes a lot of movies. Thus I’ve joked for years that, with the amount of roles he takes, sooner or later he’s going to make another good movie just by accident. I am happy to tell you that I was right. He did finally make a good movie (though whether it was an accident or not I couldn’t begin to say) in The Lincoln Lawyer.
Mattay plays Mick Haller, a defense attorney in L.A. who is hired by a rich young businessman accused of violently attacking a prostitute (Ryan Phillippe). The seemingly simple defense case gets complicated when Haller realizes there could be an intersection with one of his old cases…and that his new client may be using that against him. Marisa Tomei is Haller’s ex and one of the DA office prosecutors—she starts with the case and hands it off to a colleague (Josh Lucas) when Haller becomes involved—William H. Macy is Haller’s friend and go-to investigator, and Trace Adkins has a bit part as one of his regular clients.
The casting was great. Some of the actors were playing roles that are familiar territory, but sometimes that doesn’t matter. What matters is if the characters worked (they did) and if they played well together and seemed to fit with one another in the way their relationships implied (they did). McConaughey was a natural as the slightly-less-than-scrupulous Haller, who might play scams with his clients to up the expense sheet but has a strong belief in justice. He’s slick, he’s cool, he’s good with the quips and the manipulation, but he has an almost righteousness about his work—that he is there not to get criminals back onto the streets but to make sure no innocent person gets put behind bars. It’s a theme that weaves through several different plot threads in the film.
The movie has a few twists to it, and the ending is neither out of nowhere nor totally predictable. When it happens you immediate look back and see the clues, but it wasn’t glaringly obvious and thus unsatisfying…it hit that happy medium right on the nose.
I think one of the most enjoyable aspects of this movie is watching the various games of cat-and-mouse that Haller runs. His savvy reminded me of the role Brad Pitt played in Sleepers, where he is consciously manipulating the courtroom for his own ends.
The Lincoln Lawyer is an interesting, sometimes funny, sometimes tragic murder mystery. It puts the characters you come to like in various kinds of danger and maintains an excellent balance between tension and humor. Definitely an entertaining choice for a Friday night; not so shallow it leaves you with nothing in your mind after, but not so deep or depressing that it would prevent you from enjoying the rest of your night. Two thumbs up from me, and a third just to Mattay for finally making a movie I can enjoy all of (and not just him) again.
Elena Nola is the imperial movie critic and the colder half of the Ladies of Ice and Fire.