The Lincoln Lawyer is the type of film that Matthew McConaughey needs to be a part of every once in a while so that people can remember that if he actually chooses his projects wisely and commits himself to the material, he can be a leading man in a serious film. Here, he plays a lawyer who ends up getting more than he bargains for in the case we get to see develop over the course of a couple of hours.
McConaughey is Mickey Haller, one of the best lawyers out there, or at least, he thinks he is. He is full of himself, although he might have good reason to be this way. He knows the system, and he knows how to get his way. Before the big case of the film even begins, he’s already weaseled extra money out of two separate victims. He’s driven everywhere by a man named Earl (Laurence Mason) in, you guessed it, an old Lincoln. He is only haunted by once case where he had to get his client (Michael Peña) to plead guilty and get life in prison, even though his client was innocent.
The big case of the film comes from a young millionaire named Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe). Louis is being charged with beating and attempting to rape a woman named Regina (Margarita Levieva). He explicitly asks for Mickey, even though his family members (who provide him with all of his money) wanted one of their own lawyers to defend him. This is important later on, but at this point, just assume that Louis had heard of how impressive a lawyer Mickey is, and that’s the reason he chose him. It’ll be easier for you to sit back and relax and let the film hit you with everything it has got.
Among the supporting cast, we have William H. Macy as Mickey’s investigator. Man, he is very good at his job. So good, in fact, that his life might be in danger because of things he may or may not uncover as the film plays out. Marisa Tomei appears as Mickey’s ex-wife, seemingly only because there needed to be a woman in the main cast. She’s also a prosecutor (as opposed to Mickey’s defense attorney), so you can easily see why they broke up. I would have expected that to matter, and that she would helm Regina’s case, but that’s not what happens. Instead, she gets a largely background role in the film.
I figured going in that a lot of the film would take place in the courtroom. It doesn’t, which may be a blessing for some viewers. Most of the time, we follow Mickey around trying to piece the case together and figure out exactly what happened the night that Regina was beaten. That’s the only real certainty: She was beaten. We see the pictures, and are shocked. Louis maintains he is innocent. he saw another man with her earlier. Maybe it’s a conspiracy against him to try to get his money. But why did he bring a knife to meet her and why is it bloodied? So many questions! So little time!
The vast majority of The Lincoln Lawyer is engaging. It thrills at every moment, new things are learned, and you’re trying to piece everything together before the characters can. You’re enthralled in the experience, hoping that you’ll see something nobody else will. Maybe there was a clue earlier and you missed it. This is the type of film that plays to the participatory viewer. IT wants you thinking and it wants you to make sense of everything that goes on. Even if its twists aren’t terrible unique, they still might catch you by surprise because you’re thinking about something else.
And yet, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. This is a film that doesn’t know how to end. Eventually, the case comes to a close. I was satisfied at this point. I felt spent, emotionally, and would have been okay with the credits beginning to roll. But there’s another scene — another one where the film could end. Again, I was ready to fade to black. And another one. And another. It goes on for something like twenty minutes this way, and after realizing this, I rolled my eyes every single time it happened.
Every time one of these additional scenes appears, you’re almost guaranteed to get another big twist or reveal. “Oh, so that character was behind that” type of moments are abundant. I found most of them to be unnecessary. I understand that the novel this film is adapted from have these parts, but the film was complete right around the 100 minute mark. Everything was wrapped up nicely, and I could have walked away fully satisfied.
Performances are all around quite strong, although this is mostly just a two-person show. McConaughey and Phillippe are the major players, while most other actors are relegated to the background. While McConaughey might not have been given the most emotional performance (that actually goes to Michael Peña in his few scenes), he’s a strong lead in this role and he keeps the film watchable. Phillippe is also really good in an almost sociopathic role.
The Lincoln Lawyer is a film that needed to end right after its primary court case concluded. If it had, it would have been an excellent film. As it is, it’s a very good one that kept me engaged for over an hour and a half — until the point when it decided to throw in a ton of arbitrary and unnecessary twists to the plot. It has good acting, a solid story and is a great deal of fun if you’re willing to pay attention and try to think with, or against, its characters.