Review – The Lincoln Lawyer (15) [2011]

Star Rating: 4/5

There have not been many legal-thrillers made in recent years. The Reader and The Social Network are two that spring to mind. The Lincoln Lawyer is not, over-all, as good as those two films, but it certainly gives one value for money.

The Lincoln Lawyer is based on the book by Michael Connelly. It is about a smooth-talking, alcoholic defence lawyer, Mick Haller (Matthew McConaughey – Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, How To Lose A Guy In Ten Days, The Wolf of Wall Street), whose job is to keep criminals on the street. He’s quite good at it too – and knows it – which is why Lewis (Ryan Phillippe – Cruel Intentions, Breach, Flags of our Fathers), a thirty-two year old man from a wealthy family, demands that Mick represent him. Lewis has been charged with violent assault and rape against a prostitute; although, Lewis is adamant that he has been set up. Yet, no sooner does Mick agree to represent Lewis when things begin to get murky and twisted.

The prostitute giving Lewis her address, before he allegedly beats her up and rapes her at knife-point.

For a film that is dominated by courtrooms and legal technicalities, The Lincoln Lawyer is surprisingly interesting even to those who care little for the law. The plot is gripping and relatively simple to follow, provided the viewer is concentrating. At times, one may wonder which law-case Mick is referring to. The storyline also has a couple of flaws and things always seem to work out coincidentally well for Mick (as they tend to do for main characters in films), but not to the extent that the movie becomes ridiculous by any stretch of the imagination.

The plot is aided by very good choreography and a dialogue that is generally well-written. The director, Brad Furman (The Take), and the script-writer, John Romano (Intolerable Cruelty, Prodigy), have certainly done their homework and appear to have quite a solid knowledge of American federal law as well as Californian state law. (I do not know enough about such matters to be able to pass a proper judgement. I can only get a feel for the American legal system based on what has been said throughout the film.) There are a handful of sensationalist lines that obviously would not be said in a real court; yet, this does not take too much away from the script’s over-all quality.

Mick representing Lewis in court.

The script’s main beneficiary is Matthew McConaughey. McConaughey plays very well as a conceited barrister. (One should be aware that a common theme in movies is to make the main character look good by placing him/her next to or against weaker actors. In The Lincoln Lawyer, particularly in the courtroom scenes, McConaughey comes up against a less competent barrister than himself. The director also gives McConaughey the last word in the vast majority of the scenes, which makes him stand out more than he should.) Although McConaughey’s performance is not quite worthy of an Oscar nomination due to a lack of depth in Mick’s character; he illustrates that he is versatile and far from doomed to solely play hopeless-romantic roles like the one he did in How To Lose A Guy In Ten Days.

Without a doubt, McConaughey outshines Ryan Phillippe, the main supporting actor in The Lincoln Lawyer. Philippe does an alright and competent job; but has not really enhanced his reputation as an actor much here. Just like in Cruel Intentions, he plays here a spoilt rich kid needing to get his way. In all of his films, including Breach (wherein he plays a spy), Philippe conveys the same passion. In addition, he has the same scrunched-up facial expression that does him no favours. In Philippe’s defence, one can argue that he is not given the tools or the time to express himself in order to make the audience empathise with Lewis’ situation. But this is not a convincing argument; especially considering that Melissa Leo won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress after having less time on the screen in The Fighter than Phillippe did here.

All-in-all, The Lincoln Lawyer is certainly worth watching. It is entertaining and, seemingly, portrays the American legal world quite accurately; despite being a little theatrical on occasions. Indeed, by the end one should leave the movie feeling very satisfied.

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