21 November 2011 | secondtake
Handsome, snappy, warm movie--and leading man! But kind of ordinary crime stuff, too.
The Lincoln Lawyer (2011)
You gotta love the suave, smart, never quite cocky performance by Matthew McConaughey as a wily defense lawyer in this slightly clever, slightly formulaic movie set in contemporary L.A. He's almost like the James Bond of the justice system, operating outside the rules but ultimately on the side of good. And himself.
The one woman in his life is a common movie cliché, unfortunately, though a useful one--an ex-lover he's still a little in love with, and they once had a child together so there is a tinge of sweetness once or twice. And this woman (played by Marisa Tomei--I never caught whether they were once married or if they were just making good on getting pregnant) works in the D.A.'s office, which is useful for a defense lawyer. The rest of the cast is straight Hollywood fare, including a couple of older men big players who are always strong if a little too dependable and a couple of younger actors who are a bit more pretty than talented. The includes especially the principle perp, Louis Roulet, played Ryan Phillippe (he was that brand new cop in "Crash") who is decent in a role that demanded amazing.
Roulet is super rich, and he's been accused of beating up a prostitute, who in turn is accused of using Roulet in some kind of scam for his cash. It's complicated from the get go, which makes the movie get your attention and hold on--you actually have to be careful not to get lost at first. The mind game/power game between the two men--McConaughey and Phillippe--is the crux of the movie, but it never gets the intensity of say a Hitchcock film (Hitch being the master of the innocent man accused, and of psychological intensity).
In fact, you might say the movie misses a beat by letting the plot center mostly on the lawyer, except for the simple fact that McConaughey is so darned good. The subplot with his child, his relationship with Tomei, and a few other small diversions don't add enough to make them worthwhile. There is, luckily, plenty of screen time with the two men together, though all the courtroom scenes might not count (Phillippe is oddly lifeless there, except for one nice overacted speech about the horror of being accused of a crime you didn't commit). And gradually a very subtle shift in guilt and motive takes place, so that what we thought was happening gets undermined.
And it's no great surprise. The one surprise at the end isn't even a surprise, quite, or if it is, it's not set up enough to really make you care. It's another cliché worked into a well made movie with a single actor shining in something close to an Oscar-winning role.
The title? And the selling point of the movie (a lawyer working out of his Lincoln)? A terrific idea that is only pertinent in small moments, most notably and ludicrously in the motorcycle gang scenes (plural) Which shows another direction the movie might have taken into farce and comedy.
But this is a congenial movie with a serious plot of crime, enjoyable all the way through, nothing more or less than that.