By James Westwood (United Kingdom)
Classic Film Review
Widely considered to be the film that revived Matthew McConaughey’s career – The Lincoln Lawyer evoked fond memories of his universally lauded performance in the 1996 courtroom drama A Time to Kill and silenced critics that had mocked and challenged his career choices in between.
Set in the bustling and uncompromising city of Los Angeles, McConaughey portrays ‘Mickey Haller’, a criminal defence attorney who calls the back seat of his Lincoln town car his ‘office’ and has spent his career scraping the bottom of the barrel defending low life petty criminals. That all changes when he meets a wealthy real estate agent from Beverly Hills named ‘Louis Roulet’ – played by Ryan Phillipe – who just might provide the case of a lifetime.
Mickey can’t believe his luck initially because the case seems pretty cut and dry, the defendant’s family are prepared to pay him a small fortune and the case is big enough to receive media coverage that will put him firmly in the public eye. However it soon becomes clear that his client is not to be trusted, as he is plunged into a life or death situation that could lead to severe and lasting ramifications for him both professionally and personally.
McConaughey’s performance as Haller is slick and assured, as he glides through the early scenes seamlessly playing a confident and slippery character with just a hint of an underlying conscience. His ex-wife (played by Marisa Tomei) has a prominent role as Mickey’s link to a simpler and happier life – he still loves her and the daughter they share, but too often he has let work dictate his day to day life to the detriment of those relationships.
This film is more of a traditional thriller than a courtroom drama, but some of the best scenes are saved for in front of the judge at Roulet’s trial. The animosity between him and Haller builds throughout the film towards a satisfying and clever conclusion that never fails to keep the audience guessing. The script is fantastic and is perfectly paced as we see how Mickey operates and how he negotiates all the angles to manipulate the system for his own ends.
The supporting cast is on fine form throughout, particularly Ryan Philippe who plays Louis as a fantastically smarmy, spoiled and altogether detestable young rich kid. Marisa Tomei is perfect as Mickey’s ex-wife, convincingly finding the middle ground between love and hate towards her co-stars character and the likes of Bryan Cranston, Michael Pena and Josh Lucas all show up too in solid supporting roles. The film ultimately belongs to McConaughey though, as he again proves he has the talent to steal the show in a leading role, making it look effortless in the process.
It was little wonder that after this, he went on to win an Oscar for Dallas Buyers Club and appear in a host of critically acclaimed films. This was the film that re affirmed his immense talent and propelled him back into the limelight and rightly so.
The Lincoln Lawyer is a knockout; a tense, thrilling and well-conceived film that is as compelling as it is refreshing. It deserves to be remembered as the perfect vehicle for McConaughey’s unique and undeniable talent, but more than that – it’s a great genre film in its own right too.