Review: The Lincoln Lawyer (2011)

There are a lot of things to like about The Lincoln Lawyer. While it doesn’t offer anything substantially new like other, better courtroom dramas, The Verdict (1984) and A Few Good Men (1993), and while its first half plays like a slicker, modern version of Witness for the Prosecution (1957), The Lincoln Lawyer is consistently engaging and offers the modest genre thrills that movies of its kind promise. It stars Matthew McConaughey, in the kind of role that first made him famous in A Time to Kill (1996), as a smooth and sly defense attorney, Mick Haller, hired to defend a rich young man (Ryan Phillippe) accused of beating and attempting to rape a prostitute. When McConaughey’s in the right role — i.e. not in a Kate Hudson romantic comedy — he’s got three strengths going for him: he’s cool, he’s charming, and he’s far smarter than his southern drawl would have you think. Here, McConaughey is at the top of his game, and that combined with a solid supporting cast featuring (among others) Marisa Tomei, William H. Macy, and a sorely-underused Bryan Cranston makes The Lincoln Lawyer a film with first-rate acting, regardless of whether the characters are cut from familiar cloth.

Unfortunately, the film’s plot is weak. Some of the twists later in the film are preposterous and strain its integrity. But at the same time, they are twists so common in the genre that you just have to take them for granted. The filmmakers seems to understand that the movie’s plot is unrealistic, but they also seem to understand that the target audience won’t care and will accept the film if everything else is done well. Luckily for the filmmakers, their technical prowess does outshine their film's narrative shortcomings.

If you’re familiar with courtroom dramas or any twisty paperback thrillers, The Lincoln Lawyer won’t surprise you, but if you’re the type of person who reads twisty paperback thrillers, you’ll hardly mind. It’s solid entertainment: competently shot, well acted, and carefully balancing its humour with its darker elements. The Lincoln Lawyer is about as good a thriller as you can get when working with second-rate material.

The Lincoln Lawyer (2011)

Directed by Brad Furman; written by John Romano based on the novel by Michael Connelly; starring Matthew McConaughey, Marisa Tomei, and Ryan Phillippe.

6 out of 10