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Non-Review Review: The Lincoln Lawyer

I’m a sucker for a good old-fashioned criminal law ethical dilemma. I honestly think it was Primal Fear that sent me rushing off to law school, with its wonderful twisty plot about the relationship between innocence and guilt, lawyer and client in the criminal justice system. The Lincoln Lawyer isn’t quite as strong, but it’s certainly a worthy addition to one of the oft-ignored crime drama subgenres, anchored in superb central performances and a powerful little hook.

He rests his case...

To tell you too much of the plot would be to spoil your enjoyment of the film, which really does an excellent job of handling the core themes in this type of courtroom drama, exploring the difference between “not guilty” and “innocent” (hint: the letter isn’t a legal verdict). It’s nice little story that handles the kind of ethical dilemmas that any defense attorney must run through their heads several times each day. What happens if they send an innocent person to jail? What happens if they let a guilty man go free?

The central plot follows the arrest of a wealthy playboy on charges of aggressive assault against a woman, with fairly damning evidence at the scene. The heir to a wealthy real estate family, the playboy pleads his innocence and hires a relatively small-scale lawyer, one who operates out of the back of his Lincoln towncar – a vehicle that comes with the vanity plates “NTGUILTY.” As people try to figure out the angles, Mick Haller tries to determine if his client is guilty as sin, or the victim of a foul set-up.

McConaughey does well to let his romantic comedy persona take a backseat...

It is, in fairness, a fairly conventional legal thriller, built around the ideas of the prohibitive legal framework in which these types of defence attorneys have to operate. There is a sense that Mickey is being strangled by the bureaucratic tape as things get progressively worse, and the movie constructs this rather wonderful little trap to spring on its central character. Matthew McConaughey’s best role to date was arguably the lead in A Time to Kill, so it’s no surprise that he works out really well here – making Haller something of a charming huckster, but never venturing into the realm of parody about snake-oil salesmen or anything like that.

McConaughey is offered support by a talented cast, including Ryan Phillippe as the accused socialite, one of the stronger parts Phillippe has been handed in recent years. Marisa Tomei pops up as Mick’s former lover, and William H. Macy makes for a charming moustached private detective. Rounding out the cast is the always pleasant Bob Gunton as a posh upper-crust lawyer and Bryan Cranston in a small role as a detective. I honestly cannot get enough Bryan Cranston, and I’m glad that the actor is finally getting his due.

The lead knocks it out of the park...

The movie does suffer a bit with the ending. The case itself wraps up pretty well, and ends with a well-formulated gambit that makes good sense, but the problem is that the movie attempts to offer a bit of a thrill to things – sticking in personal threats and placing the lives of Mick’s loved ones at risk. These scenes towards the end never really gel, and feel almost added on – it honestly feels like the threats and the way that they are handled were an after-thought in putting the film together. Everything just… sorta happens. there’s grave danger and then it kinda resolves itself.

Which is a massive shame, because director Brad Furman does an excellent job in the courtroom. He films the court case like an actual hearing, right down to a courtroom that looks like a remodelled conference centre instead of the classic idea of a courtroom, and it lends a nice air of authenticity to events. The direction of the interpersonal scenes, and the scenes where Mick addresses the jury, are superbly handled, with the camera almost as smooth and as comfortable as its leading man. Even the obligatory “his story, her story” sections are handled with a lot more energy than a typical CSI episode, the camera skilfully transitioning from the interview to the night in question. It’s disappointing that the film isn’t really so interesting outside the courtroom, but it’s still deftly handled.

Copping to the crime...

The Lincoln Lawyer isn’t perfect or jaw-droppingly amazing. It’s a well-made example of an old genre that we honestly don’t get to see often enough these days. It draws a great performance from its leading man, and crafts a compelling legal and moral dilemma, but it doesn’t quite come together in the end. It’s well worth a look, though.

4 Responses

  1. Tasty! I was also pleasantly surprised when I walked out of the cinema after this. As you say, the last 15 mins are a bit MEH but overall it’s pretty damn solid.

    Loved the soundtrack too, added a whole other level of coolness.

    I’d strongly recommend The Good Wife if you liked this…

  2. Like you, I enjoyed the film but the ending was a bit much. Still, I’d love to see McConaughey reprise the role in a series of films. His charming persona is reminiscent of Paul Newman’s in Harper.

    • Yep. I wouldn’t mind a sequel or franchise. McConaughey is genuinely awesome here, and it just demonstrates how much he’s wasted on his usual films.

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