Movie #7: The Lincoln Lawyer

When The Lincoln Lawyer came out in theatres last year, I was surprised to see another lawyer movie being made. It seemed that good, legal dramas had become the domain of TV. There had definitely been a whole slew of John Grisham movies back in the 90s (in fact, Matthew McConaughey made his first big splash in Grisham’s A Time to Kill, back in 1996). Nevertheless, even Grisham’s novel, The Firm, had recently found its way to television. I wondered what a two-hour movie could offer that wouldn’t be better served over an entire TV season of episodes. To my surprise, the longer format  of a movie actually allowed more twists and turns; the stakes felt higher; and the cases hit closer to home. McConaughey is perfectly cast as Mick Haller, a smug defense attorney operating out of his Lincoln (hence the title). McConaughey does the charming grin and the preening cockiness so well, that it’s difficult to know where the actor ends and the character begins. I didn’t read the original Michael Connelly novel on which this movie was based so I can’t compare the character on paper to the one on screen. When Haller is referred the case of a rich, young realtor (played by Ryan Phillipe — he’s pretty good at playing the rich kid) charged with beating up a prostitute (played by Margarita Levieva, a.k.a “fake” Amanda from the TV series Revenge). Haller doesn’t start out believing (or really caring) whether his client is innocent as he works his usual magic to get him off. However, things get complicated really fast as elements of a previous case come back to haunt him, and his client doesn’t seem as innocent as he might have hoped. One of the advantages of a TV series is that we usually get time to know the characters as they appear. The supporting players get introduced and we care about them as the storylines involve them a bit more. In the case of this movie, not only is Haller new to us, but so are his friends and colleagues (including cops played by John Leguizamo and Bryan Cranston, and his buddy investigator played by William H. Macy), and his family (Marisa Tomei plays his ex-wife and he has a daughter as well). So it’s ironic that when things start to heat up and the stakes are raised (often meaning people’s lives/careers/etc. are put in danger), all these characters get involved when we don’t really understand their relationships that well. They start to feel like a whole lot of messy inter-connections. Fortunately, this movie focuses mostly on Haller. Love him or not, McConaughey’s skill is not just amping up the attitude, he’s got a wonderful knack for playing that same cocksure character after things start to crumble and when he starts to fail. As Haller learns things about his case and his past, we can see in McConaughey’s performance how much he’s struggling but how he can also pull himself and the situation out of the fire. That’s what made this movie enjoyable for me, and I’m not sure this kind of character arc would have played as well on TV. Granted, shows like The Good Wife, or The Practice have done a pretty good job of not walking away from messy outcomes, making sure that there is impact on the characters’ ongoing story. But on TV, after a case is done, we still need to go back to a status quo. This movie actually proved to me how much is gained by making a legal drama into a movie. I’m looking forward to enjoying more of them in the future. (4 out of 5)

7 down, 43 more to go!

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