It’s been a long while since a really great courtroom drama hit the big screen (Erin Brockovich in 2000 perhaps?), and this one isn’t going to change that verdict. A slick but uncharismatic cat-and-mouse game between maverick lawyer and rich client, The Lincoln Lawyer is too much courtroom and too little drama, and far too fascinated by its own sense of cool to let any passion or moral outrage fly around the halls of justice.
Mathew McConaughey – who wanted to be a lawyer before turning to acting – is the nonchalant bad-boy defense attorney Mick Haller, who runs his practise from the back of his car (yes – a Lincoln). He takes on cases that attract something of a premium because of their unsavory nature, and there’s something of the unsavory about Haller himself when we first meet him. Separated from his wife Maggie (Marisa Tomei) who’s also a lawyer, he isn’t above defrauding clients into giving him money or hanging out with a dodgy gang of bikies who need him to help with one of their own booked on a drug charge. So when Haller gets hooked up with rich young Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe) who appears to have been set up by a prostitute, it seems like it’s going to be an easy case of he’s innocent your honour, that’ll be fifty grand thanks. But Roulet isn’t quite what he seems, and as the typical pre-trial investigation and courtroom haggling plays out, the very street-wise Haller realises that he’s involved in a much more complex and deadly game. Coming to his help is his dogged research sidekick Fred Levin (Willam H. Macy) who digs around for dirt on the young man.
Adapted from the Michael Connelly airport novel of the same name, John Romano’s screenplay feels like television and runs too long, and director Brad Furman indulges the style with oversaturated colours and exaggerated camera moves. When it comes to the actors, however, the performances are left distinctly on the flat side. Just about everyone other than McConaughey seems underused – Phillippe dispassionate and dull, Tomei unnecessary, and poor old William H. Macy more extra than assistant. McConaughey himself – perhaps keen to move on from eligible rom-com bachelor – works hard to position Haller as a complex mix of smooth operator, concerned dad and defender of the just – but is ultimately boxed in by a film that’s packaged to be easy on the eye and not too taxing on the mind.