The Lincoln Lawyer (2011)

2012 #23
Brad Furman | 114 mins | TV | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

The Lincoln LawyerAdapted from a novel by best-selling author Michael Connelly, The Lincoln Lawyer seemed to appear out of nowhere and garner an uncommonly high amount of praise. I’m glad that intrigued me, because, while not a revelatory experience, it’s certainly worth your time.

The story concerns hot-shot lawyer Mick Haller (Matthew McConaughey), who works out of the back of his car (hence the title), and his latest case, defending a rich playboy accused of murder. Essentially, it’s a solid crime/legal thriller; the kind of thing we’d probably get as a 90-minute TV episode over here, but thanks to America not really having that format, it gets the cinema treatment. Nonetheless, it’s well enough acted, with an interesting enough story, to sustain the grander status automatically afforded to something released theatrically.

As a thriller its plot is naturally packed with surprises, reversals, about-turns… in other words, twists. The big one plays at the halfway point, which is a nice change. It’s not exactly an unguessable turn of events, but the story may still have a few surprises up its sleeve. Of course, anyone who watches or reads enough crime fiction is rarely (if ever) going to be surprised by a thriller’s plot, as they all essentially re-arrange a selection of elements from the genre’s large grab bag in a way that makes them moderately unique. Connelly and adaptor John Romano make sure Lincoln Lawyer arranges its chosen selection in a way that indeed makes it unique enough, especially when buoyed by some quality acting and slick (but not show-off-y) direction from Furman.

Lawyer out of LincolnI’m not sure I’ve ever seen McConaughey in anything (nothing I remember, anyway), but my impression has been he’s not all that. Here, though, he nails the slightly-smarmy-but-kinda-likeable street-wise defence attorney Mick Haller. He’s buoyed by a quality cast: Ryan Phillippe is eminently plausible as a rich kid used to getting his own way, while the likes of William H. Macy, Marisa Tomei, John Leguizamo and Bob Gunton offer typically consummate support.

The array of small roles arranged around Haller once again make it feel like the setup for a TV series. There’s his ex-wife and their daughter; his investigator ‘sidekick’; his driver (important when you work out of the back of your car); a couple of detectives he butts heads with; the bale bondsman who gets him work; some regular clients… They do all have a role to play in this particular tale, but with so many it feels like setting up avenues to be explored in future episodes. I suppose all thriller authors do this nowadays – their heroes are designed to run for books and books (Haller’s only at four, but Connelly’s other main character has amassed 17+, and you can see similar numbers in other author’s series), so they need to be set up like a TV series. Plus it helps if they ever get adapted for TV… and just to cement such a view, NBC have commissioned a TV spin-off from this. (Lionsgate also talked of pushing ahead with a sequel. I haven’t heard anything about either project for ages so don’t know their current status.)

That may be the tip of the iceberg for Michael Connelly on screen. Though this is only the second adaptation of his work, he’s clearly successful in print and positioning himself for a big-screen future: The lawyer's Lincolnafter languishing in development hell for 20 years, he recently paid Paramount $3 million for the rights to his most prolific character. With said character being the half-brother of Haller, and that Lincoln Laywer sequel in development, maybe Connelly’s work is destined to become the Marvel Cinematic Universe of crime/legal film adaptations. This could be the time to get in on the ground floor.

One might argue that The Lincoln Lawyer doesn’t quite do enough to transcend the feeling of a TV procedural, and it’s a point of view I have some sympathy for. But even still, it’s a high-quality, well-made example of the genre.

4 out of 5

This review is part of the 100 Films Advent Calendar 2012. Read more here.

The Lincoln Lawyer placed 8th on my list of The Ten Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2012, which can be read in full here.

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