Film review: The Lincoln Lawyer

The Lincoln Lawyer
Lakeshore Entertainment, SKE Entertainment

STARRING Matthew McConaughey, Marisa Tomei, Ryan Philippe, Josh Lucas, William H. Macy, Bryan Cranston
WRITTEN BY John Romano (based on the book by Michael Connelly)
PRODUCED BY Sidney Kimmel, Tom Rosenberg, Gary Lucchesi, Richard Wright, Scott Steindorff

SHOT BY Lukas Ettlin
MUSIC BY Cliff Martinez, John Frizzell

Screened 2011-03-01

In 2005 Michael Connelly started a new franchise of novels by introducing his first lawyer character, Mickey Haller, in a book titled “The Lincoln Lawyer.” I cannot in good conscience badmouth this film because I can sense that it comes from a place of great care by those who made it – even if those people are relatively amateur when it comes to filmmaking and narrative construction – this is not badmouthing, btw, but keepin’ it real. Connelly and Furman would appreciate that, no doubt.

McConaughey (had to check that spelling), who doesn’t look like he’s aged since Contact, plays Haller. Haller doesn’t have a lot going beyond his insouciant legal skill and garden-variety greed, though he is still adored by all those around him. Expected disillusion is on Haller’s menu as he takes client Ryan Philippe, a young realty magnate protected by very boring old money. He killed a hooker and thinks he can get away with it, and Mr. Haller cannot believe such men exist – Haller, who is definitively street. The film comes from the street, represents the street. Hard-working decency and common sense shrewdness, they’d like to believe, can get you through it all. Sometimes, perhaps, but Connelly’s romanticism neglects to indulge in the reality of the rich surviving forever and the poor being fucked forever. You would think this message could not be more timely, but The Lincoln Lawyer is a rather tired sock to old money’s guts – it’ll make the street feel better, but it never actually hurt.

“Lincoln Lawyer” was Connelly’s first dalliance into legal thriller fiction and the film is Brad Furman’s first real taste of narrative responsibility – his previous film, 2007’s The Take, is LA street crime direct-to-DVD fodder starring Leguizamo (cover-judging). Lincoln Lawyer is just sexy enough not to make us resent it.. Half of the film is shot like an episode of 24 – handheld “following people around,” unmotivated mid-scene zooms (which have become perversely vogue), a great deal of time utilizing slow shutter… Technically I must say the film feels very polished and concise. They worked hard. They really cared. They hired dedicated, hard-working actors and competent technicians. They got the film they wanted. Now the content itself, as well as the presentation of this content, is so far behind the times that I practically fell asleep; a story not developed beyond a first draft, and this is where all that work and dedication are aimed, so our product comes at us with a glisten and freshness which are disconcerting – it’s basically a very high budget direct-to-DVD release (a theory which is bolstered by its cast, who are the “up-for-anything” crew – which in itself is, of course, a good thing..). This speaks to the virginity of its director, and… (there’s just no nice way to say it, but I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings…) I just don’t understand how Connelly can spend decades writing thrillers and then turn out the most pat, uninflected story imagineable… but then I did not read his book. I am only assuming that the film is true to the material – the film does explicitly have Connelly’s blessing. Oh, maybe I can understand – sometimes one needs to get something out of his system. No justice without STREET JUSTICE! We’ll take that 1 from the cradle 2 the grave. But this tremendously dull film will not be despised because of the earnestness with which its told, thanks to the rather modest and straight telling of the story, never devolving into pure sex, and to – I can’t believe I’m saying this – McConaughey’s emotive and dedicated performance.

written by David Ashley