The slipperiest guy in the room
While “The Lincoln Lawyer” may be a throwback to legal thrillers from the 1970s and early ’80s, it updates the genre to reflect 21st century cinematic practices. An early sequence demonstrates the filmmaker’s bravura during a protracted “walk and talk” that would make “West Wing” proud: its characters taunting and cajoling one another in the shorthand of longtime associates.
Much of the action chronicles the rough-around-the-edges career of Mick Haller (Matthew McConaughey), who provides legal representation for L.A.’s smalltime crooks. The film establishes that Mick isn’t above greasing a bailiff’s palm, but he limits the scope of his skullduggery in hopes he remains capable of recognizing “the scariest client – an innocent man.”
Mick is anchored by his association with talented investigator, and longtime friend, Frank Levin (William H. Macy). With Frank’s help, Mick learns facts either hidden or forgotten by his clients for whom he uses to cut deals with prosecutors in corridors and elevators. Slick though he is, Mick ups the ante when he accepts a high profile gig – defending Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe), son of wealthy real estate broker, Mary Windsor (Frances Fisher) – against charges of rape and assault.
The film’s tangled plot plumbs a problematic attorney-defendant dance that finds Mick doing the quickstep with both clients and associates who acquiesce to his long list of favors. Mick retains a special place on the dance card of his prosecutor, ex-wife Maggie (Marisa Tomei), the woman he still loves and mother Mick’s young daughter. Maggie loves Mick, but can’t reconcile the side effects of his slippery practices.
The film’s gritty, lived-in look is filtered through Mick’s character, an archetype drawn from Michael Connelly’s best-seller, one in a series of novels following the attorney’s exploits. Since its satisfying plot fits McConaughey better than a well-cut suit, we wouldn’t mind another ride in Mick’s Lincoln – someday soon.
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