En español | A welcome surprise, The Lincoln Lawyer grants parole to the maverick lawyer movie — the same genre that was thrown into the Movieland Detention Center several years ago in the wake of one too many John Grisham adaptations (and that one too many would be Runaway Jury, way back in 2003).
We’re not quite ready to take the GPS ankle bracelet off the old boy yet, but with its smart script, quirkily drawn characters and (gasp!) engaging performance by Matthew McConaughey, this zippy gaveler (and I’m coining that term; take note Variety) goes a long way toward rehabilitation.
McConaughey plays Mick Haller, a criminal defense attorney who, as the title implies, works out of the backseat of his chauffeured Lincoln Town Car. That rolling locale makes it all the easier for him to keep up with the street smart, probably guilty but usually well-heeled defendants he tends to represent. On this particular day, however, Mick is engaged by an LA society gal (a radiant Frances Fisher) whose son Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe) has been accused of beating up a prostitute. At first Mick doesn’t understand why he’s the super-rich matriarch’s choice, but the reason is eventually revealed, much to the dismay of Mick and his private investigator, a suitably dogged-looking William H. Macy.
Of course there’s also the complicated love interest: Mick’s clearly still-smitten ex-wife (Marisa Tomei), who is naturally a deputy district attorney and who just can’t understand how the man she’s nuts about can keep defending the scum of society.
The setup is pretty much by the numbers, but it’s the writing that gives The Lincoln Lawyer its snap. Novelist Michael Connelly’s characters, even tangential ones, each get smartly realized moments:
D.A.: Mr. Corliss, are you presently incarcerated in the county jail?
Corliss (a jailhouse snitch): No, sir, right now I’m here in the courtroom.
A shout-out has to go to screenwriter John Romano, who has penned only a handful of movies but has been one of TV’s sharpest writers for decades. His credits include Monk, Third Watch, Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law and the most ambitiously outrageous TV failure of all time, Cop Rock.
Which brings us to McConaughey, who may finally have found the role that will allow the women in the audience to swoon while the men, for once, don’t want to punch in that purty little face. He plays Mick as a drawling yet quick-witted wise guy who hatches complex strategies on the fly, then watches them unfold with delightfully feigned surprise.
And a final note: My companion at this screening and I made a friendly bet: How soon into the film would McConaughey remove his shirt? She guessed 15 minutes (wishful thinking, perhaps). I said 45. Well, gentle reader, you may set your watch by it: Three-quarters of an hour in, almost to the second, the pecs peek as predicted. This is why I am a professional film critic. Don’t try this at home.