A weasely — and proud of it — defense attorney finds himself caught up in a case with a client even twistier than he is in The Lincoln Lawyer, a surprisingly fun legal mystery set to soul music and inter-cut with shots of a very badass-looking Lincoln.
As we are told/infer, Mick Haller (Matthew McConaughey), a defense attorney constructed of equal parts chutzpah and hair product, at some point lost his license and got Earl (Laurence Mason) to drive him around in a vaguely pimpy Lincoln, from the back seat of which Haller could do his lawyering. But Mick liked the setup so much he kept Earl on even after he got his license back. All the better to deal with his semi-sleazy-seeming network of consultants and clients.
One such gentleman, Val Valenzuela (John Leguizamo) the bail bondsman, gives Mick a tip on a rich boy who is in need of a criminal defense attorney after being picked up for beating up his date. Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe) has a pretty-boy face and a mother with deep pockets and a not completely unconvincing story about the girl who’s charging him being a prostitute looking to shake him down. Frank Levin (William H. Macy), Mick’s investigator, is able to find some evidence to back that up. But both men also think Louis might be guiltier than he lets on, particularly once Mick finds some evidence connecting this case to an earlier one that sent his client (Michael Peña) to jail for decades. And, guilty or no, once Mick signs on, he has to keep his doubts from the prosecutor, Ted Minton (Josh Lucas, who makes an entertaining opponent as he has always seemed to be a discount McConaughey).
Throughout all of this, Maggie McPherson (Marisa Tomei) waltzes in and out of the story. Also a prosecutor for the district attorney’s office, Maggie is Mick’s former wife and the mother of his young daughter. It’s only now dawning on me that her role serves almost no plot purpose — she helpfully provides some exposition and a little bit of texture for Mick’s character. Her performance is strong enough, however, that you don’t notice. She, Macy and a handful of other supporting characters really, well, class up the joint. I went in to this movie expecting next to nothing. Expecting, actually, to spend two hours drumming my fingers on a sticky armrest, anxiously waiting for the movie to end. This is not what happened — and what a lovely surprise. While I can see how (particularly if different actors had been involved) this movie could have gone down Hysteria Road to get caught in Cliché Cul-de-sac, it didn’t. The movie is a quiet, scruffy little cops-and-robbers-type story that makes the most of its 1970s-retro feel and its seedy San Fernando Valley setting.
Rated R for some violence, sexual content and language. Directed by Brad Furman and written by John Romano (from a novel by Michael Connelly), The Lincoln Lawyer is an hour and 59 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Lionsgate.