Anthony's Film Review

The Lincoln Lawyer (2011)

An engaging and gripping legal thriller with a twisted plot, plus a nice performance by its star...

I couldn't help but think about one thing while reading Michael Connelly's legal thriller novel The Lincoln Lawyer. Is it a thankless job to be a defense attorney? If you were paid to defend people even if you knew they were guilty, could you live with yourself? Is there reward in spending most of your career reducing punishments issued by judges rather than proving that clients are not guilty? This is what attorney Michael "Mickey" Haller has spent years doing: defending lowlifes. And on top of this, he has to make ends meet financially, even going as far as having his office in the backseat of a Lincoln Town Car with a former client driving him from one courthouse to another. Hence, the title of the story.

The central conflict of the novel, and its 2011 film adaptation, is best summed up in an unforgetable quote from the story: "There is no client as scary as an innocent man." As the movie begins, Matthew McConaughey as Mickey Haller spends time helping his clients, who are run-of-the-mill offenders like bikers and prostitutes. His work is nothing more than making deals to reduce punishments, and it's all for his base income. But one day, he gets a rich client: a Beverly Hills playboy and realtor named Louis Roulet, played by Ryan Phillippe. Roulet is accused of brutally beating Regina Campo, a woman he met at a bar, but he claims to be innocent. And he just might be.

The movie definitely gets interesting here. Whereas the scenes with Haller's regular clients are like straightforward moments from a TV show, the scene with Roulet's story feels cinematic. His account of being set up by Campo to falsely accuse him is presented in an effective flashback sequence. What's even more striking is Campo's story in the police report, which, too, is shown in a flashback, but with Roulet as a vicious attacker. This has the effect of casting doubt in the audience's mind, much like a jury listening to opposing arguments during a trial.

The events following this nice setup are just as intriguing, because the whole situation gets twisted. I won't give away anything, but let's just say that Haller is put into a rather difficult legal and moral dilemma. It proves that even defense attorneys have it rough, probably no more than the prosecutors across the aisle who bear the responsibility of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. There are gripping scenes inside and outside the courtroom, all moving the story along like any good thriller would. And, of course, there are a few unexpected twists, including the final shocker that I consider to be the biggest surprise of all.

As for performances by the cast, Matthew McConaughey is the real star here. He knows how to be a solid professional in the courtroom, a sort-of charmer with his regular clients, and a tough guy when facing danger. As a result, Mickey Haller is a character to root for, one with cynicism as well as honor. Most of the supporting cast consists of numerous actors and actresses who notably have much less screen time than McConaughey but still deliver good performances when they do appear. The characters they play, including Haller's investigator Frank Levin (William H. Macy), bail bondsman Val Valenzuela (John Leguizamo), Roulet's mother Mary Windsor (Frances Fisher), prosecuting attorney Ted Minton (Josh Lucas), and Haller's ex-wife Maggie McPherson (Marisa Tomei) who is also a prosecuting attorney, are still vital to the story and are a joy to see.

For me, The Lincoln Lawyer is a movie that starts out good and suddenly gets better, like a car stepping up one gear and not going back. I found myself constantly anticipating, with excitement, what would happen next. Even if Matthew McConaughey was not my first choice for Mickey Haller based on how I imagined the character from the novel, he still pulls it off well. I think fans of the novel will appreciate this movie, which retains all of the key parts of the original story and only makes a couple of small changes as needed to maintain pacing or to enhance the main character. So with that, my verdict is in: The Lincoln Lawyer is an entertaining picture, thanks to Michael Connelly's thrilling novel and Hollywood's skill in bringing it to life.

Anthony's Rating:

For more information about The Lincoln Lawyer, visit the Internet Movie Database.


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