5-Word 365 #136 – The Lincoln Lawyer

Today’s column took quite a bit longer than usual to write. I got some new shampoo today and I can’t stop smelling my hair. It’s really quite pleasant. Sorry about that. I feel like I should start talking about boobs and football now.

The Lincoln Lawyer

Why would anyone divorce Tomei?

Mick Haller is the slickest defence lawyer in all of LA County. He works out of the back of his Lincoln Town Car – hence the nickname – driven by Earl, a former client who is paying off his legal fees. While visiting a client at the lock-up, he is passed the case of Louis Roulet, a rich playboy accused of the brutal assault of a prostitute. Although protesting his innocence, inconsistencies in Roulet’s story begin to make Haller wonder if he really did it, and what else he might have done. Mindgames ensue.

Matthew McConaughey’s third appearance as an officer of the court is also his most entertaining. Based on the novel of the same name by prolific crime writer Michael Connelly, this is a thoroughly enjoyable trip down a well-trodden road as we watch the cavalier Haller suffer a crisis of conscience when his new client turns out to be not so squeaky clean after all. Let me just say this before I go any further: The Lincoln Lawyer is not a whodunit. By the end of the first act Haller knows that Roulet is guilty, and Roulet knows he knows it. Since he can’t just come out and say it, Haller has to figure a way to give Roulet the best possible defense while still making sure that he won’t get away with it (especially after finding out what lengths Roulet is prepared to go to in order to secure his acquittal). Watching the interplay between these two made me think of Columbo as much as anything else, if Columbo had been a defense attorney instead of a cop.

I have been a fan of McConaughey since his debut in Dazed And Confused – still my all-time favourite movie for those of you taking notes – but it’s good to see him back in a dramatic role after some of the increasingly ropey rom-coms he has been a part of in recent years. I can’t compare movie-Haller to book-Haller, but in McConaughey’s hands he is a charming rogue, able to sweet-talk almost anyone into doing what he wants – whether it’s his ex-wife (played by the fine wine that is Marisa Tomei) or the leader of a local biker gang and repeat client (country star Trace Adkins). Ryan Phillippe brings all the baby-faced faux-innocence he can muster to Roulet. His pretty-boy looks have often left him underestimated as an actor but if you are still unconvinced after this, go watch Way Of The Gun and Homegrown then come back and tell me if I’m wrong. He was also the best thing in Franklyn, but you don’t have to watch that one if you don’t want to. This flick is such a two-hander between Haller and Roulet that the rest of the cast amount to not much more than a collection of cameos, but they are all good in their limited roles. William H Macy classes the joint up as usual as Mick’s investigator Frank, and Frances Fisher is a bit unsettling as Mama Roulet; her determination to see her son free almost bordering on Oedipal. Michael Peña is as reliable as ever in an especially small but critical role as one of Haller’s previous clients.

They are actually playing a divorced couple. Yes, really.

Other than being a former assistant of Julia Roberts, director Brad Furman had only made a handful of shorts and one other feature prior to this (low budget crime thriller The Take, which has probably the best collection of plot keywords on IMDb that I have ever seen) but he brings some subtle style to the proceedings, particularly with the look of the film. The movie starts with lots of handheld camerawork as we’re introduced to Mick and his freewheeling working methods, settling down to more locked-off shots as the story brings in the rich Roulets and moves from the holding cells into the courtroom.

The soundtrack to this film is fantastic; full of classic soul and hip-hop played from Earl’s CD collection while he’s driving Mick around town. The stand-out moment musically is definitely Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City playing out over the slick opening credits. The sequence tells you everything you need to know about Mick just with the visuals and sets up the tone of the film perfectly. Cliff Martinez’s score on the other hand is effective enough but mostly forgettable. Not to go off on a tangent or anything, but the trailer for The Lincoln Lawyer prominently featured the Ted Nugent song Stanglehold. Sahara, McConaughey’s starring vehicle of 2005 (which also co-starred William H Macy and was a novel adaptation and possible franchise-starter, albeit an unsuccessful one) included the songs Never Been Any Reason by Head East and Dr John’s Right Place, Wrong Time. All three of these tracks also appeared in Dazed And Confused. Coincidence? Or evidence of darker forces at work?

(Trailer-Man voice) Not even the law could keep them apart… Matthew McConaughey and Ryan Phillippe star in Brokeback Courtroom.

As I said earlier, this film is not about whether Roulet is guilty or not. The story might have worked that way and could have been very good, but that tale has been told a hundred and one times already. By shooting it as a straight-up battle of wits between the two leads, Furman and screenwriter John Romano have created a more character-focused movie that is both effective in its own right and a solid start to the further adventures of Michael Haller Esq. In fact, both a sequel film and a weekly series are currently in development. Personally, I hope Lionsgate stick with the movies.


  1. rochpikey · May 16, 2012

    I felt like this was a very underrated film when it came out because everyone was focused on Limitless. We have seen McConaughey play a charming southern lawyer before (and he is very good at that role) but to me the difference was, as you briefly you touched on, the supporting cast of Tomei, Phillippe, Macy, Cranston, and Whigham. They helped bring the clever story to life with some real thrills.

    • Ryan McNeely · May 18, 2012

      You’re right. Films like this depend on the supporting cast, and this one is a cracker. I really enjoyed Limitless too though.

  2. fernandorafael · May 19, 2012

    Great review, Ryan! This was a very fun movie. Loved the look and the soundtrack and McConaughey in the lead role. I agree with what you say about Tomei. Oh, and I looked up The Take on IMDb and had a good laugh with the plot keywords! My favorite was, of course, “doggystyle sex”.

    • Ryan McNeely · May 19, 2012

      Okay, now I know a lot more about you than I ever thought I would…

  3. CMrok93 · May 19, 2012

    Nice review Ryan. This was a good movie, even if it didn’t do anything new or cool to the whole legal-thriller genre. It was also a flick that showed that McConaughey still had what it takes to be a leading man that isn’t a stoner.

    • Ryan McNeely · May 19, 2012

      Yep. I really hope he does a few more of these Mick Haller movies. There are three other books to choose from already.

  4. Jen · May 31, 2012

    Truly enjoyed this movie. Matthew McCounaughey is a fabulous actor and he really portrays the character well. Great book, too!

Go ahead, punk. Make my day.

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