Matthew McConaughey as Mickey Haller
Ryan Phillippe as Louis Roulet
Marisa Tomei as Margaret McPherson
William H. Macy as Frank Levin
Michaela Conlin as Detective Heidi Sobel
Josh Lucas as Ted Minton
Laurence Mason as Earl
Frances Fishers as Mary Windsor
John Leguizamo as Val Valenzuela
Michael Peña as Jesus Martinez
Margarita Levieva as Reggie Camp
Bob Gunton as Cecil Dobbs
Katherine Moening as Gloria
Bryan Cranston as Detective Lankford
Michael Pare as Detective Kurlen
Directed by Brad Furman
Mickey Haller (Matthew McConaughey) is everything people we like to think of as being wrong with trial lawyers. Cocky and cocksure, he knows all the ins and outs of the legal system and that’s how he treats it, as a system to be used and abused. Through a mixture of scamming and bribery and quick legal maneuvering from the backseat of his Lincoln Town Car, Haller doesn’t break the law but he bends it with an inch of its life in order to get what he wants. But when he’s called into the biggest case of his life, defending a real estate mogul (Ryan Phillippe) accused of attempted murder, he’s going to have to pull out all his tricks and invent some new ones if he hopes to make it to his closing arguments alive.
It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that “The Lincoln Lawyer” is what we used to call beach reading (now more like airplane reading), heavy on plot sometimes to the expense of all else in order to keep pages turning at all costs. Author Michael Connelly has been doing this sort of thing for quite a while, so it also shouldn’t be much of a surprise that “Lawyer” is a pretty slick, if unimaginative, example of the form, equal parts legal procedural and soap opera. In effect, it ends up feeling like an entire season of a legal television show squashed into two hours.
It’s also quite ridiculous, keeping its foot on the plot pedal as heavily as possible, sacrificing everything including believability and characterization in exchange for twists and turns, hoping to keep its audience so engrossed on where they’re going they never stop to reflect on where they’ve just been.
To be fair, this sort of thing fits star McConaughey to a tee. Haller has to tread a fine line between reprehensibility and fortitude, making you willing to go along with him even he’s trying to figure out the best way to help drug-dealing motorcycle gangs so he can collect his fee. It helps that a lot of his opponents are actually worse than he is, but you still end up in the unusual position being tilted to root for him to succeed despite the fact that success might mean a murderer goes free. Still, it’s a role that is perfectly suited to McConaughey’s particular brand of arrogant charm and he plays it to the hilt, effectively finding Haller’s hidden humanity as he tries to honestly help the clients he knows need it or raise his daughter with his assistant district attorney ex-wife (Marisa Tomei).
On top of Tomei, he’s further backed up by a well-chosen supporting cast, from Brian Cranston and William H. Macy as old investigative hands to Phillippe as someone who seems to get stuck as the spoiled, possibly violent rich kid a lot. The machinations of the plot means that the film’s fairly large cast comes and goes quickly, with quite a few characters only getting one or two scenes as needed to set up the next twist, but strong casting keeps that from stinging as deeply as it could.
At the end of the day, though, it’s hard to get over quite how contrived it is. Brimming with subplots which all somehow miraculously come together in the end despite often having nothing to do with each other, “Lawyer” could probably have benefited from some trimming down of the sudden swerves and focused more on Haller the human being who is strongly enough portrayed to have carried the extra scrutiny.
For people just looking for a bit of entertainment, McConaughey’s performance offers a good bit and the plot is twisty enough to keep murder-mystery fans hooked. As long as you don’t think about it and some of its incredible coincidences at all. The end result is pretty typical beach reading fare. Really good movies have been made out of that sort of thing before, but this isn’t one of them. It’s not particularly bad, but God is it silly.