Available this week on DVD, “The Lincoln Lawyer” stars Matthew McConaughey in the title role; however, his fans should be warned that he almost never takes his shirt off, and then in low light. He is, after all, supposed to be defense attorney Mick Haller, a slick talking, street smart guy but one who believes in justice. And this isn’t the standard McConaughey romantic comedy vehicle but a courtroom drama that demands its star impress a jury more than a girl, and with his words rather than his six-pack.
The title derives from the fact that Mick’s office is in the back of a Lincoln limo driven by chauffeur/ sidekick Earl, Mick having lost his license sometime prior. (The car sports NTGILTY vanity plates, and the opening credits constitute an extended ad for the automobile.) Mick drinks and drives too fast, is buddies with bikers, bribes bailiffs, and is not above swindling in a good cause. His high living and defending of lowlifes have cost him his marriage, though he and ex-wife (and current prosecutor) Maggie (Marisa Tomei) share a love for their daughter and, occasionally, each other’s bed.
But Mick’s practice isn’t exactly thriving: his secretary works at home in her bathrobe, and his own home is what the real estate ads call a fixer-upper. So when a wealthy young realtor asks for Mick to defend him in a rape and assault case, it looks like Mick’s luck has turned. He and his investigator, Frank (William H. Macy), get busy after the client, Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillipe), convinces Mick of his innocence.
We also learn that Mick has taken and pled out a similar—but significantly poorer—client some years before, a case that still rankles with both Mick and the police. They all want to “make it right,” but for polar opposites reasons. And in the Big Courtroom Scene, the parallels between both cases figure importantly.
The big difference, however, is that the rich kid is a liar: he uses the attorney/client privilege to put Mick in an apparently inescapable bind, starting a cat and mouse game that gives the plot some intriguing complexity. Director Brad Furman generally keeps us involved, though his inexperience sometimes shows through. (This is only his second feature film.) But John Romano’s screenplay does justice to Michael Connelly’s best-selling novel. (Full disclosure: I’m a big fan of Connelly—an ex-LA Times crime reporter--and hope to see more of his work adapted for the screen.) Like Connelly’s writings generally, “The Lincoln Lawyer” has considerably more talk than action. It’s rated “R” for language, violence, and some relatively discreet sexuality. The ending leaves the door open for a sequel: I look forward to it.