Friday, March 18, 2011

In and out of court, enjoyable ‘Lincoln Lawyer’ appeals

By Steve Crum

The expected news about The Lincoln Lawyer is that star Matthew McConaughey once again bares his rippling chest. The really good news is this is McConaughey’s best film since A Time To Kill, back in 1996, when he played an easygoing lawyer in the Deep South. He is mostly easygoing in Lincoln Lawyer, except this time he is criminal attorney Michael “Mick” Haller, based in Los Angeles, and operating out of the back seat of his chauffeur driven Lincoln Continental.

Sure the car thing is a plot gimmick, as is his NTGUILTY license plate. As is his cool and reliable driver, Earl (Laurence Mason), who doubles as an investigator when things are tight. As is Mick’s close relationship with some tough bikers. (One of their gang is Mick’s client.) Mick is so assuredly collected that he maintains unbelievably positive vibes with his ex, Maggie (Marisa Tomei), who has custody of their little girl, Hayley (Mackenzie Aladjem).

Yet, appearances like the expensive car glitter are deceiving, Mick mostly handles inner city, small time court cases, which translate into paltry cash flow. His confidence, mixed with pricey suits and good looks, help carry the visual ruse. Mick seems to be biding his time, running cross town from one hearing to another. Then real money enters in the form of Beverly Hills playboy Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe), who is accused of attempted murder.

As directed by Brad Furman (The Take) and written by John Romano, The Lincoln Lawyer develops into a deftly structured murder mystery with a few action scenes included. Although trial scenes occupy about a third of its nearly two hour run time, Furman balances both Mick’s private and professional life with fast pacing and adept camera work. As the story progresses, Mick Haller’s character changes from a pretty shallow, flim-flam lawyer to shrewd, responsible, and likable human being.

Mick’s attempted murder case segues into a mind game give and take with his client, and it is soon apparent our Lincoln attorney has gotten himself into a precarious, dangerous predicament. It certainly makes Mick question whether the huge retainer is worth it. In the process, he elicits help from his aide Frank Levin (William H. Macy in a small but pivotal role) and Val Valenzuela (John Leguizamo). More so for comedy relief, look for country music star Trace Adkins as Eddie Vogel, leader of the bikers.

As the credits rolled at the end, I was not only surprised about how impressive McConaughey was (and I do enjoy his romantic comedies and action filmography), but I also thought The Lincoln Lawyer would make a good series. Maybe this flick could actually spawn a movie franchise. At the very least, it could work on TV. The gimmickry is in place, reminiscent of Burke’s Law and the chauffeur driven Rolls. Mick’s character is smooth enough for a murder mystery of the week series. Everyone knows how popular attorney shows are these days.

In the meantime, we can enjoy The Lincoln Lawyer’s above average storytelling.
GRADE: On an A to F Scale: B-

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