The Lincoln Lawyer is a film that doesn’t work the way that it should. Oddly enough, that’s a good thing. This is a film that is greater than the sum of its parts because it knows exactly what it is. It does not overreach or aspire to be anything greater. It is a well assembled legal yarn, and in the dead zone of the movie year, it is a relief to see a picture that is as easy to watch and enjoy as this one.
The titular lawyer here is Mick Haller (Matthew McConaughey), a Los Angeles defense attorney far more concerned with a quick fix and a pay stub than his clients’ well-being. He wields a sleeve full of legal tricks and schemes to make sure he wins, and conducts most of his business from the back of his car. He may be slimy, but he is also very good.
On the hunt for another big pay day, he takes on the case of Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe), the wealthy son of a real estate emperor who has been accused of brutally beating a prostitute. Of course, what looks like an easy case is complicated by twists and revelations, and soon Haller finds himself trying not only to understand his case, but also to understand his own morality.
As the case progresses, more lies and hidden truths surface, and soon Haller, Roulet, and the prosecutor (Josh Lucas) are all playing games with each other and the audience. Phillippe has his part down, wearing the smug face of a fortunate son effortlessly. The pacing is solid, and because the case unfolds as more of a mystery than a simple legal proceeding, the audience is drawn in further and invested in the ending. Haller begins to see similarities between this case and a case from his past, and soon he finds himself questioning his own judgement, wondering if there is a way to atone for his past failings. It isn’t the most hard-boiled crime film, but it’s certainly not served over easy.
This plot is familiar territory, but McConaughey is able to bring enough sincerity and life into Haller that the film becomes legitimately engaging. McConaughey endows Haller with the perfect amount of brash overconfidence. As an actor, McConaughey often seems to suffer from some sort of Nicholas Cage disorder, making the choice not to act well when he is perfectly capable of doing so. Here he has found the right role and he runs with it. He’s a perfectly believable lawyer and an even more believable prick.
The Lincoln Lawyer lets its actors take over. Therein lies the real strength of the movie. It is that strength that makes the moments when the editing gets over stylized or the dialogue gets a little patchy unimportant. A few subplots are not completely resolved, and the ending drags on for a scene or two, but the audience doesn’t care. The characters are the important thing. As long as the characters keep the audience’s attention, the shortcomings of the film seem inconsequential.
Another great thing about this film is the fact that everyone is on the same page. Everyone knows that this is pulpy material — especially William H. Macy, who revels in it– but they work with the tone instead of against it. They let McConaughey and the mystery steer the film home. The Lincoln Lawyer won’t be winning any awards or going down in the annals of crime-film history, but it is still a confident, well told tale that can entertain for a few hours. All in all, that is nothing to object to.
The Lincoln Lawyer isn’t spectacular, but it’s definitely a solid and enjoyable legal mystery: B