Matthew McConaughey should stick to playing lawyers. Fifteen years ago, he sizzled in John Grisham adaptation A Time To Kill.
He’s on similar form in this absorbing adaptation of Michael Connelly’s page-turner, playing Mick Haller, an amoral LA defence lawyer who runs his business from the back of a Lincoln town car (complete with ‘NTGUILTY’ licence plates).
Representing all sorts of “scum”, not least a posse of drug dealing Hells Angels, he’s got street smarts in spades.
Haller’s latest case is different, a high-end money-spinner involving Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe, perfectly cast), the only son of a wealthy Beverly Hills realtor (Frances Fisher), accused by a prostitute of attempted murder.
Pleading doe-eyed innocence, Roulet claims he’s been set up. It’s a theory that doesn’t wash with Haller’s own private investigator (William H Macy), while Haller himself is left to consider words from his own legendary lawyer father (who, in a nice blend of fiction and reality, once repped gangster Mickey Cohen): “There’s no client as scary as an innocent man.”
Looking increasingly haggard as the trial unfurls, as Haller gradually comes to the realisation that this is no open-and-shut case, McConaughey gives his best performance in years. It may not quite be on the level of Paul Newman’s ambulance chaser in The Verdict but it’s subtle, assured work.
Just because Haller operates by his own code of ethics, it doesn’t make him a total deadbeat – witness his affection for his daughter and ex-wife (Tomei) – and McConaughey embodies these contradictions perfectly.
The support cast is also universally fine, from Macy’s shaggy-looking P.I. to Josh Lucas’ beleaguered State attorney. Credit to director Brad Furman for assembling a group of actors, not stars, who are willing to service the story, rather than their own egos.
There are other pleasures too, from the aptly nervy camerawork to the urban soundtrack (Gang Starr, Erik B & Rakim).
Yes, The Lincoln Lawyer is hardly groundbreaking. But what it does do, it does very well.
Engrossing. A classy cast juice up this compelling courtroom saga, with Matthew McConaughey – so long starved of a decent lead – on fire.