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With: Matthew McConaughey, Marisa Tomei, Ryan Phillippe, William H. Macy, Josh Lucas, John Leguizamo, Michael Peľa, Bob Gunton, Frances Fisher, Bryan Cranston, Trace Adkins, Laurence Mason, Margarita Levieva, Pell James, Shea Whigham
Written by: John Romano, based on a novel by Michael Connelly
Directed by: Brad Furman
MPAA Rating: R for some violence, sexual content and language
Running Time: 119
Date: 03/10/2011

The Lincoln Lawyer (2011)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Luck of the Law

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Matthew McConaughey has been justly ridiculed as a vacuous hillbilly who takes his shirt off in every film. But finally, he takes on a grown-up role as Mick Haller, a cocky and money-grubbing lawyer in this movie based on Michael Connelly's 2005 novel (the first of an ongoing series). Mick is divorced, from gorgeous Maggie McPherson (Marisa Tomei), and drinks too much. He's the type of lawyer whose car gets pulled over by a squad of Hell's Angels and has the nerve to demand more money from them... and they pay. McConaughey throws everything he has into this part, and it's easy to take him seriously for a change.

The Lincoln Lawyer begins with Mick's newest case. A rich playboy, Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe) has been arrested for beating up a prostitute, and claims he's innocent. Mick takes the case, but soon learns that Roulet is lying to him. It gets worse: he learns that Roulet may be involved with an earlier murder, but is in a sticky legal bind and can't do anything about it.

There are more murders and Mick's list of enemies grows ever longer. The movie has a first-rate cast of actors in fresh performances. I especially love the playful, friendly relationship between the ex-spouses Mick and Maggie (she's also a lawyer). William H. Macy plays an investigator working for Mick, and he's totally unlike his usual sad-eyed sad-sack; now he's a scary-looking hippie with long hair, a droopy moustache, and an attitude. Josh Lucas is well-cast as an opposing lawyer, a bit cocky and a bit sweaty. John Leguizamo turns in another of his quirky character parts, and Michael Peña turns up in a small but crucial part. The criminally underused Pell James plays Mick's assistant. Even Frances Fisher gets to do something out of the ordinary.

The director here is Brad Furman, and it's the first we've heard of him. He has done some shorts and one direct-to-video movie, The Take (2007), also starring Leguizamo. He doesn't have an exceptional style, but his new film is notable for what it lacks: chase scenes or gratuitous thrills. Scenes that could have been overblown into brain-dead action are tampered and kept in check.

The movie does not pander or dumb itself down. It jumps through the twists and turns of Michael Connelly's story with grace and confidence, trusting that the audience is smart enough to follow. As the dots are connected, the plot requires characters to speak the names of characters again and again, even when they're not onscreen, but the names themselves plus Furman's canny casting makes it all crystal clear. Once upon a time, this would have been a dime-a-dozen thriller, but now it's unique in that it's one of the few adult entertainments out there right now. Thank goodness Mr. Connelly has more novels that have yet to be filmed.

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