Color me surprised- not only because THE LINCOLN LAWYER is a film that evokes the look and feel of certain 90’s thrillers, but that I actually found a recent Matthew McConaughey film very compelling. There are solid performances around every corner and the film remains quite riveting even though there isn’t a single twist you don’t see coming. Director Brad Furman does a great job with pacing and tension which makes THE LINCOLN LAWYER one of those happy surprises, although I went in not expecting much.
Mick Haller (Matthew McConaughey) is a very slippery and confident lawyer, defending a wide range of despicable individuals. Mick is very good at what he does, but when he is hired to defend the morally bankrupt Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillipe) he finds himself in somewhat of a pickle. Mick begins a dangerous game of tug of war with his conscience and his professional integrity as well as an even more dangerous series of interactions with his new client while also searching for a way to help a previous wrongly convicted client.
I don’t want to give the wrong impression by making any of my praise for THE LINCOLN LAWYER sound as if I believe this is the be-all-end-all of courtroom thrillers, because though I did like it quite a bit I also don’t see a whole lot of re-watch value in it either. The acting the tension, the script are all very well done, but the film is pretty predictable and the lack of surprises hinders any lasting impression it could have had. I will say that even though there’s a lot of events I could see or feel were coming, it didn’t do any critical damage to my ability to enjoy the film.
There are a handful of solid performances- McConaughey and Phillipe getting the bulk of times to shine. McConaughey rarely draws me in to the theater let alone to the video store for a rental although I have liked him in previous movies. I do like him when it comes to dramatic roles as opposed to the slacker romantic interest that he’s normally cast in and luckily this time around it’s not the latter. Phillipe has always proven quite good in the brooding dramatic roles and I think his role here is also one of my favorites I’ve seen him in. Phillipe is dark and creepy as well as portraying a dormant psychotic personality where McConaughey is the smooth talking confident lawyer. The mix makes for some very entertaining cinema.
As far as the rest of the film goes, it’s easy to say that the film takes the safe approach by avoiding a lot of whodunit scenarios and twists, but the ones that are there can be fun, yet extremely predictable. The film leaves everything out in the open, letting you have all the motives and information that compile the story and lets you have as much fun with it as you please. In some ways I admire that sort of take it or leave it mentality.
THE LINCOLN LAWYER has a certain attitude about it as well- not one that says it’s smarter than you, just one that says it knows what it is. When a filmmaker can establish a tense tone but still sell out any of its surprises then you know it’s a film meant not to stimulate the most complex inner workings of your brain. Instead what you’re left with is solid performances selling you nothing but a tightly wrapped piece of entertainment that might leave a mess once you’re done and you can either slop up the rest, or leave it for someone else to enjoy.
There is no doubt in my mind that THE LINCOLN LAWYER is a well made, well acted stylish thriller, but it’s the cinematic equivalent of a one night stand. Matthew McConaughey and Ryan Phillipe give great performances as does the rest of the supporting cast. As far as courtroom thrillers go, THE LINCOLN LAWYER should stand proudly amongst them- just not tall enough to easily separate it from the herd.