Thursday, March 17, 2011

Law from the backseat of a limo

Matthew McConaughey, an actor who’s had as many downs as he’s had ups, seems to do well in courtrooms. His “breakthrough” movie – 1996’s A Time to Kill – cast him as an attorney, and so does The Lincoln Lawyer, a pulpy, improbable and moderately entertaining new thriller.

In The Lincoln Lawyer, McConaughey portrays Mickey Haller, a slick, marginally ethical attorney who delights in either getting his clients off or cutting them the best possible deals. The title of the movie stems from the way Mickey conducts his business, from the backseat of a black, chauffer-driven Lincoln Town Car.

Directed by Brad Furman and written by John Romano, The Lincoln Lawyer tells a story that relies on the kind of twists and turns that seem to occur only in legal thrillers – either on screen or on the page. The movie is based on a 2005 novel by Michael Connelly, a veteran cop reporter, who now plies his trade writing fiction.

McConaughey keeps the movie on track, giving Mickey plenty of conniving spirit and immodest charm as he deals with a variety of low-life clients – from prostitutes to gang bangers to drug dealers. Mickey has built a solid reputation among Los Angeles' criminal class. He is not admired by the police.

Fortune – in the form of a major payday -- smiles on Mickey when he’s asked to represent Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe), a rich guy whose mother (Frances Fisher) wants to keep him out of jail. A high-priced hooker has accused Roulet of beating her senseless.

Is this woman for real or is she seeking to drain the rich kid’s pocketbook?

The movie quickly answers that question as it morphs into a cagey game in which a hard-partying attorney -- perhaps for the first time – finds himself asking pointed ethical questions.

The movie boasts a strong supporting cast. Marisa Tomei portrays a prosecuting attorney who happens to be Mickey’s former wife. John Leguizamo shows up as a corrupt bail bondsman, and William H. Macy (sporting the long-haired look of an unrepentant hippy) plays an investigator who helps Mickey, sometimes making well-placed payoffs.

Fair to say that the entire supporting cast is a bit under-exposed as the story lurches from point A to point Z, sometimes speeding too quickly past the rest of the alphabet. Let’s just say the plot loses credibility as the movie progresses, maybe because Lincoln Lawyer isn’t quite smart enough to pull off its plethora of dodges, feints and last-minute revelations.

But McConaughey and crew keep Lincoln Lawyer in the game. Sans any desire to probe deeply, Lincoln Lawyer slides by quickly, but contains a few too many contrivances to make us believe it knows how things really work.

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