Monday, April 9, 2012

"The Lincoln Lawyer" (2011)

Starring Matthew McConaughey, Ryan Phillipe and Marisa Tomei
Written by John Romano
Directed by Brad Furman
Rated R - Violence, language, mature themes, sex
Running Time: 119 Minutes

Michael Haller (Matthew McConaughey) is a slick-talking defense lawyer who sometime back lost his license.  In order to get around, he hired one of his clients to be his chauffer (Laurence Mason) instead of paying his legal bills, and rides around in a Lincoln Towncar.  He mostly defends scumbags, but one day his friend Val (John Leguizamo) urges him to take a meeting with a young man named Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillipe).  Roulet has been arrested and charged with rape and attempted murder of a young prostitute (Margarita Levivita).

At first, Haller is excited to take on a case that will surely pay him a good deal of money, as Roulet comes  from a rich family that owns a real estate empire.  He hears the details of the case and hires his friend Frank (William H. Macy) to be his investigator.  His ex-wife, prosecutor Margaret McPherson (Marisa Tomei) with whom Haller has a child, isn't too happy he's taking this case.

Soon enough, the details of the case begin to get muddled.  Haller and Levin suspect that their client may not only be guilty in this case, but in a string of murders over the last few years - including one in which Haller himself gave up his client to life in prison instead of the death penalty.  When Roulet confesses such to Haller, and threatens Haller's family if he doesn't get him a not guilty verdict, Haller finds himself between a rock and a hard place.

How can Haller protect his family and bring Roulet to justice without violating the laws and rules he swore to uphold?  He can't tell the police, or he'd torpedo his entire career and the case would be thrown out anyway. But if he doesn't try his hardest to get his client off, he's in the same boat.  With no one to turn to, Haller concocts a devious and dangerous plan that if it goes wrong could cost him his future, and his family's lives.

I'm not too much a fan of Matthew McConaughey.  He's not that great an actor, and if you ask almost any woman what they think of him, the answer is invariably "He's sooooo hot!" (no mention will be made of his acting ability).  here, he just plays Matthew McConaughey once again.  Thankfully, he's surrounded by a solid cast and a solid script to bolster up everything.

Though "The Lincoln Lawyer" was listed as a thriller by Netflix, it's actually just a courtroom drama/mystery.  This is not bad, since I liked the film, but I had gone into it expecting it to be something else.  The mystery at the center of the film is solid and unveils slowly.  The courtroom drama aspects of it are also good, with some nicely played scenes with Josh Lucas as the prosecutor trying his best to put Roulet behind bars.

Ryan Phillipe doesn't get as much screentime as I thought he would as the villain of the piece.  The film is so centered on Haller and his investigation that Roulet almost doesn't appear, except for a few scenes in which he either alternately gets to play menacing or the victim.  Roulet claims that the prostitute is setting him up, and Haller eventually learns this is actually his MO - he chooses prostitutes who have just had a client so that suspicion will fall on the client rather than himself.  Unfortunately this time the prostitute manages to clock him over the head and call for help.  Phillipe does good in these scenes, especially when he plays Roulet as a young man desperate to be cleared while giving testimony on the stand.  It's probably the best piece of acting in the entire film.

"The Lincoln Lawyer" plays things pretty subdued.  While the script and acting are solid, the direction is nothing to write home about.  Part of why "The Lincoln Lawyer" is decent but not spectacular is that it's not particularly well shot or edited, often looking more like an episode of "Law and Order" than a feature film.  I had never heard of director Brad Furman before watching this film, and that's no surprise considering his filmography consists of only one other movie, a direct-to-video heist film starring John Leguizamo.  If "The Lincoln Lawyer" had a bit more pep and a little more visual flair than the average TV drama, it might have scored higher praise from me.

As is, this is solid courtroom shenanigans.  There's a mostly talented cast and a solid script, but the direction can drain some of the life out of the proceedings.