' Cinema Romantico: The Lincoln Lawyer

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Lincoln Lawyer

I finally figured out Matthew McConaughey. He should be playing lawyers. Nothing but lawyers. He is such a lawyer. He looks like one, talks like one, drinks like one, or at least like how we think of them at the movies which is all that really matters in this scenario. He broke as a lawyer in "A Time To Kill" and he is so in his element in "The Lincoln Lawyer" as, well, obviously that you might find yourself scratching your head during and after and thinking, "McConaughey couldn't have been that good, could he?" But he is! That snake-oily Texan in him, that way he can flip from deviously charming to charmingly devious on a dime, was meant to be employed full time as a courtroom thresher, not moonlighting in insipid rom coms. 

Based on Michael Connelly's novel, McConaughey is Mick Haller, your typical shady, cynical defense attorney, albeit one who operates his business outta the back of a Lincoln Continental, driven by the smooth, no nonsense Earl (Laurence Mason). Strangely, though, for being a movie named after that Lincoln very little action apart from the beginning and end takes place in that Lincoln. So it is. He winds up on the case of Louis Rolet (Ryan Phillippe, perfectly cast with his mostly expressionless pretty boy face) as a smug, spoiled rich kid who has been accused by a, ahem, prostitute (Margarita Levieva) of beating her, viciously, after a bar pickup. Louis says he didn't do it. Mick seems like he actually might believe the kid, like the kid might have been the victim of a setup.


Mick and his private investigator (William H. Macy, Methoding to great effect) pour over the facts of the case and quickly learn several of those facts might not be so hard and fast and a few of them might be outright lies and darned if this case doesn't begin to recall a particular case of yore, a case that might just be connected to this one. And, meanwhile, sliding in and out of the movie with the greatest of ease, like a femme not-so fatale is Marisa Tomei's Maggie McPherson, the ex wife of Mick and mother of his child, an L.A. D.A., and still friendly with Mick - perhaps too friendly - and a fine illustration of how this film actually pays attention and takes time to sculpt supporting characters. Even supporting characters that are barely there, like a homicide detective, are played a few notes off kilter by their actor - in this case, Bryan Cranston - to give it some life. The first half is one of those movies that's just so watchable

But for all the good, professional will initially built by this movie, well, to paraphrase the Eric B. & Rakim song that turns up on the soundtrack, sorry, but I'm gonna have to sweat the technique.

No lawyer film, of course, is complete without the main lawyer, our protagonist, taking a case that returns him to his crooked past and gives him one last chance to set himself back on the path of the straight and narrow and to see, you know, the light. McConaughey plays this all to the hilt, his hair becoming progressively less styled, undoing one extra button on his shirt to reveal the gritty undershirt below, as he comes to terms with his wicked, wicked ways. Or does he?

"The Lincoln Lawyer" becomes a sort of west coast "Michael Clayton" which is to say that while it purports to be a character piece - an examination of the eternal pull between good and evil, the wearied guy with one more fight - it is, in truth, just a maze of twists designed to play "Got Ya!" with the audience. The film's most prominent red herring is, in fact, Mick Haller's battle to save his soul. Consider the last sequence. It suggests that whatever lesson Mick has supposedly spent the last hour learning has already been discarded. And it isn't played as a downbeat, this-is-the-way-of-the-real-world ending, no, it's played upbeat, funky, happy happy joy joy. I call shenanigans.

The movie's one truly brilliant moment also works as a crystallization of its issues. After a night at the bar, Mick and Maggie, delightfully, hook up and sleep together and then the movie transitions to a quick shot of the city of Los Angeles twinkling in the evening light and then transitions to the Morning After where reality returns to smack Mick and Maggie in the face and they argue and so on and so forth. Their marriage had attraction but not the real stuff. Kinda like this movie. Glamorous but, ultimately, soulless.

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