After those tired 2010 leftovers are about to leave our multiplexes and before summer hopefuls arrive, mid-March seems a good time to release a crime thriller. Opening this weekend, The Lincoln Lawyer is such a film. Although not a thriller in the vein of Inception or as pointless as The Tourist, it’s a middle-of-the-road suspense offering with some good performances.
Matthew McConaughey portrays Michael “Mick” Haller, a footloose -- now fancy free and no longer with his ex-wife -- lawyer who foregoes any normalcy of the legal tradition. His office is the backseat of his limo, his secretary works from her bed in her apartment, and his investigator/sidekick (William H. Macy) looks like a recently rescued bum from the homeless shelter.
Mick seems to hang on to somewhat of a carefree existence on one small case after another, like billing a gang of motorcycle riders double for taking care of their legal problems. Or talking clients into pleading guilty whether they are or not so he doesn’t have to do much work. Then a dream case comes along, supposedly from a reference by a bail bondsman (John Leguizamo) Mick should probably know better than to trust.
The case involves a high-profile family. Beverly Hills mama’s boy Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe) says he got scammed by a girl who picked him up in a bar. After he left her house, she called the police and reported that he viciously beat her up. Louis’s mom (Frances Fisher) knows her son can’t be guilty and has her lawyer hire Mick to get Louis out of jail. Phillippe is excellent in his role here; he convinces us -- through his imperceptible demeanor -- that Louis could play poker with the high rollers.
While this maneuvering begins, Mick and his ex, Maggie (Marisa Tomei), share some reminiscing as they exchange their young daughter on their visits. Maggie is supposedly a prosecuting attorney, but we rarely see her in court or anywhere much beyond cozying up to Mick. Tomei does pull off some nice chemistry with McConaughey, which helps put his role above the usual love-and-leave them character. Mick seems to genuinely care for Maggie, but he needs to grow up.
When it looks like Louis might be guilty of a woman’s murder, Mick steps into a game of chess with Louis, his mother, and prosecutors. His unraveling of the crime will leave one of his peers murdered and set Mick on a course requiring an examination of his own actions once and for all.
Adapted from Michael Connelly’s bestselling novel and directed by Brad Furman, The Lincoln Lawyer works a bit of humor into a crime story while still focusing on a lead star with a lot of charisma. Although not the best movie I’ve seen, there’s enough going for this film to make it worth checking out. Unfortunately, the cinematography at the screening I attended was irritating: perhaps the film’s onscreen ratio was wrong -- or maybe Furman really loves close up shots.
(Released by Lionsgate and Lakeshore Entertainment and rated “R” for some violence, sexual content and language.)
Review also posted at www.reviewexpress.com.