Saturday, July 16, 2011

Jury's out: ‘Lawyer' thrills

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If you ask me, there just aren't enough courtroom thrillers.
Thankfully, "The Lincoln Lawyer" is one of those old-fashioned courtroom thrillers, in which moral dilemmas abound and one's moral fiber is kicked around and beaten down again and again.
LOVE me a good courtroom thriller, and "The Lincoln Lawyer" is a fairly exciting one.
Throw in a strong performance by Matthew McConaughey — his strongest in years after being stuck in the mire of bad romantic comedies — and solid supporting help by the likes of William H. Macy, and you have a legal doozy.
McConaughey plays Mick Haller, a slick defense lawyer who works out of the back of his chauffeured Lincoln Town Car. He specializes in defending lowlifes that lawyers aren't necessarily biting at the bit to defend. Drug-dealing biker gangs, prostitutes and the like — Haller is their man.
So it's unusual when he lands a client who's a little higher up on the food chain, millionaire Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe). He is charged with the brutal assault and attempted rape of Reggie Campo (Margarita Levieva).
Roulet says that, yes, he did go to her apartment, but he did not commit the crime. When he entered her place, he was struck on the head and doesn't remember anything else after that.
But there was a man — a boyfriend, maybe — in her place before him. He surmises she must have noticed the Rolex he was wearing, lured him to her apartment, knocked him out, beat herself up (or had her boyfriend do it), and set him up so she could win a hefty settlement.
Seems like a solid enough case, particularly with corroborating research from Mick's good friend, former police detective Frank Levin (William H. Macy). He finds out the victim is a prostitute and it seems plausible she would see Roulet as her golden ticket.
But then Frank, after digging deeper into Roulet's past, ends up dead, and soon Mick's case is quickly falling apart.
Mick soon suspects his client may be guilty and may have been involved in a similar, even more serious case years ago that he tried. It is the one case he regrets, particularly if he might have helped put an innocent man behind bars.
Ah, the moral compass is turning.
"The Lincoln Lawyer" is based on Michael Connelly's novel of the same name — a courtroom whopper that translates well on the big screen, thanks to John Romano's finely pecked-out screenplay. The film presents to us all those things that make a good courtroom thriller — questions of guilt versus innocence, big-gun lawyers on opposite sides battling it out, and the fragile nature of truth and justice when it has been twisted and manipulated.
McConaughey is fun to watch as Mick Haller, a full-of-character, disarming lawyer with a charming smile and aw-shucks way about him. He's likable enough until you see how he uses all that charm to defend the worst of the worst, and does it happily as long as a big paycheck is waiting for him at the end.
Just as intriguing are the supporting characters. William H. Macy, touting a mustache and crazy hair for this role, adds his own bit of quirk, and it's nice to see Marisa Tomei on the big screen again as Mick's supportive ex. Also fun to watch is a biker gang that wheels and deals with Mick on various cases.
The courtroom scenes, when McConaughey's character goes up against the opposing lawyer (Josh Lucas), are a work of art. It's thrilling to watch the justice mechanism churning. And director Brad Furman, instead of showing off the typical pretty L.A. scenes, keeps this film gritty and down-low, just like the story.
Unfortunately, Ryan Phillippe gets lost among all these great performances. He plays the most two-dimensional character in a film so full of great characters.


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