Review: THE LINCOLN LAWYER - Thoroughly Entertaining Legal Thriller

rating: 3.5

(Apologies in the lateness of this review, there were no online press screenings in the U.K.) Few among us still have hope for Matthew McConaughey, following a decade of work populated largely with meek romantic adventure fare (How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days, Sahara, Failure to Launch, Fool's Gold, and Ghosts of Girlfriend's Past) amid the odd honourable effort (We Are Marshall) and one truly memorable turn (as Ben Stiller's breezy agent friend in Tropic Thunder). It seems that all the once-promising actor needed was a fine script and a director confident in the promise he showed on early works such as Lone Star and A Time To Kill, because compelling legal whodunnit The Lincoln Lawyer sees Matthew McConaughey rise from the embers of Hollywood mediocrity like a Phoenix, soaring like he hasn't in years. Adapted from Michael Connelly's titular novel, McConaughey is Mickey Haller, a lawyer who operates for some reason out of his Lincoln towncar, generally dealing with cases most other lawyers would find either morally reprehensible or simply too plainly guilty to bother defending. Haller is a shark, though; an extremely skilled, slick, charming type, with no qualms about who he defends, as long as the money's right. When faced with his latest case, defending a rich kid accused of rape and assault (Ryan Phillippe), he gets more than he bargains for; a moral dilemma regarding an old case that threatens to unravel his personal and professional dealings entire. The Lincoln Lawyer is for a measure no work of uniqueness or originality; it is a hands-up legal thriller pulled straight from the John Grisham playbook, yet like several of Grisham's better adaptations to date, it benefits from some outstanding performances, particularly that of lead McConaughey. Exuding a commitment and charm missing from the vast majority of his recent output, his Mickey Haller is so good it makes us believe quite how skilled a lawyer McConaughey might make himself; utterly cocksure, suave, and dedicated. Newbie director Brad Furman smartly trains the camera close on his star for the most part, milking the handsome features but also capturing a smouldering intensity we had all pretty much forgotten about by now. One cannot discount the solid if less pronounced work of his sizable and distinguished roster of co-stars either; Phillippe recalls his slimebag Sebastian from Cruel Intentions as the dubious did-he-didn't-he suspect of the central case, while William H. Macy (sporting a hilarious hair piece), Marisa Tomei, Michael Peña, Josh Lucas, John Leguizamo, Bob Gunton and Bryan Cranston all see in at least one or two big dramatic beats each. Deceptively simple in many ways, this film like any legal thriller worth its salt fields out the red herrings and moral and ethical complications fast, building a situation which is quickly far more complex than a simple case of guilt or innocence. Though the delivery is simple - we get various eyewitness accounts relayed in grotty flashback form - Furman confidently portrays how evidence and information can simply be sitting, waiting for someone to uncover it, or perhaps a case needs someone to remember an apparently minute detail from years back, and how the seemingly smallest details can sway a verdict so dramatically. Ultimately it all comes down to a somewhat inevitable gunfire showdown, yet the wranglings up to this point have become genuinely involving, and McConaughey is so devilish good in the lead role, that it will do little to detract from the suspense. The Lincoln Lawyer doesn't rewrite the rule book, but then, it doesn't want to; it just wants to tell a compelling, twisty story, and it does that with panache, thanks to a strong cast, tipped by a lead star who has perhaps begun to redeem himself a little. The Lincoln Lawyer is in cinema's now.
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Frequently sleep-deprived film addict and video game obsessive who spends more time than is healthy in darkened London screening rooms. Follow his twitter on @ShaunMunroFilm or e-mail him at shaneo632 [at] gmail.com.