Over the years I have developed a deeply rooted hatred for Matthew McConaughey. Outside a handful of decent roles, he’s been coasting through his career. Seemingly all he’s been doing is lining up romantic comedy gigs and taking his shirt off at least once every act. Kudos to him for exploiting the “shirt off” niche, but he’s gotten so bad that he’s treading on self-parody. Thankfully, McConaughey has started to make amends with me (clearly something that plagues his conscience) through a terrific performance in The Lincoln Lawyer, a feverish thriller that sometimes borders on the ridiculous, but is always entertaining.
It’d be easy for me to cast doubt on the fact that McConaughey plays a lawyer with any sense of credibility, but McConaughey’s undeniable charm does wonders here as he plays Mickey Haller, a street-wise defense attorney who attracts the darkest of clients. Mickey lives for the opportunity to setting the justice system right, even if it’s ironically done in a shady way. With his career hampered by a case that was fraudulent, Mickey is interested in providing those in question with a knowledgeable fighter in their corner. This holds true until Mickey becomes embroiled in a case that exploits one of his past cases and his interest in winning.
Enter in Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe), a privileged playboy who has found himself on the wrong side of a rape and attempted murder conviction. With an unlimited amount of resources, Roulet interestingly chooses Mickey to represent him, a notion that Mickey gladly tries to expose for monetary benefits. Despite his initial belief in Roulet’s defensive stance, Mickey soon realizes that there is more to the story. After a plethora of lies and inaccuracies that fall from Roulet’s tongue, Mickey digs deep into his resources to relive the murky picture that Roulet and his victim have assembled. I dare not go any further into the plot’s specific details, for there are twists and turns that are obviously better off not being known.
What I can say is that director Brad Furman has crafted a taut court-room thriller that features terrific performances. As mentioned before, Mc Conaughey has delivered his best performance in a while. His cool, charismatic turn gives the film much of its edge. Think of it as a hybrid between his character in Dazed and Confused and his dedicated lawyer type from A Time to Kill. You know this is an accomplishment based on his history of film roles and my clear dissenting view of him. Helping McConaughey raise the dramatic stakes is the cast that is stacked around him, which features the always reliable power of Marisa Tomei, Bryan Cranston, and William H. Macy. Aside from the performances and keen eye of Furman, the film does itself a favor by not being too bogged down in its twists and criminal proceedings. Tipping the scale in the favor of the former would’ve pushed the film further in the direction of absurdity, and the latter would’ve surely slowed down the film’s momentum. Both would’ve been the kiss of death. Honing in on a runtime of nearly two hours, The Lincoln Lawyer is a flashy, economical thriller that is for once serviced, not hindered, by McConaughey at the epicenter.