Review in a Hurry: With great use of the Los Angeles cityscape, a strong supporting cast and a case that isn't by the numbers, The Lincoln Lawyer works best as a return to form for Matthew McConaughey.
That would be enough—seeing a movie star actually act—but Lincoln has a nifty setup and an even niftier premise. Only a few last-act surprises take the air out of this fast-moving vehicle.
The Bigger Picture: McConaughey is Michael "Mick" Haller, a Los Angeles charmer of a criminal defense attorney who's in such high demand that he's ditched a regular office for the wheelin' 'n' dealin' to be made in the backseat of his—you guessed it—Lincoln Continental. His cases are small-time (a hooker here, a drug-dealing motorcycle gang there) until a wealthy Beverly Hills dude (Ryan Phillippe) is accused of attempted murder. The alleged victim is a prostitute with a record. Was the young, rich kid set up?
Based on the novel by Michael Connelly, the plot of the haves versus the have-nots may seem too familiar for yet another legal drama. But Connelly, who worked for years as an investigative reporter for the Los Angeles Times, elevates the give-and-take vibe of the city to new heights.
There's something perfect, from a script point of view, about having Haller shuffle back and forth from downtown L.A. to the Valley and back again in the Lincoln. Haller, literally, can't seem to stay in one place for too long.
And that's a good thing since everyone's trying to track Haller down. John Leguizamo plays a bondsman who knows a new Beverly Hills client equals green. And William H. Macy plays a private dick who seems to know every angle. Haller is as adept at moving among the different social groups as his driver (a fun role for Laurence Mason) is at slaloming through L.A. traffic.
The director, Brad Furman (The Take), makes Los Angeles feel alive. The hills, the winding roads and the hidden hot spots that get all types of citizens into trouble are the best use of L.A. for a crime story since Training Day. Both films exist in the nonbeachy neighborhoods of the West Coast. That is, where most folks actually live.
This isn't a Grisham-like thriller with the powers that be conspiring against our hero. Here, it's the intricacies of the law and how Haller must uphold it that keeps the narrative engaging.
Speaking of, we're so glad that Haller is a character that brings this McConaughey back to the screen. He's an actor who's best suited for roles where he flies solo. We regret he's spent the past decade showing up in forgettable rom-coms (usually with Kate Hudson). In fact, we wouldn't mind if this kick starts a Michael Haller series, just as long as McConaughey is signed on.
The 180—a Second Opinion: If there's a bit of a letdown in the film it's Ryan Phillippe. He's played overprivileged jerks for so long that we never really question whether or not he's guilty. To the story's credit, that's not really the main mystery, but getting an actor who doesn't just smolder with his eyes and mumble his lines would have been a big plus. Having a better foil would have also made the last minute "reveals" more believable.