For some reason boxing movies and courtroom dramas never go out of style. The Lincoln Lawyer has its fair share of left-hooks, but one can easily tell from the title that it's a member of the latter genre. Matthew McConaughey is Micky Haller, a morally bankrupt defense attorney with a Lincoln Town Car (hence the title) as an office and a laundry list of reprehensible cliental. His newest, Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillipe), is a rich kid facing 20 years for attempted rape and murder. He plays innocent really, really well, but is he? Or is he just a savage predator with "I'd like to thank the Academy" acting chops? Of course the real question is: would it matter to bottom feeding Micky Haller either way?
It should, right? Director Otto Preminger and star James Stewart tackled that quandary in their excellent 1959 ethical drama, Anatomy of a Murder. The Lincoln Lawyer is a similar moralist tale that never lets that all-important question simmer and soak the way Preminger's film did so effectively. Maybe, the movie's lack of thematic focus derives from its expansive supporting cast diffusing the protagonist's arc. The film is based on a novel by Michael Connelly that I'm sure balanced and sufficiently utilized a plethora of characters that includes: an ex-wife (Marissa Tomei), a PI (William H. Macy), several prosecutors, DA's, old clients, new clients, snitches, judges, police officers and witnesses. Let's just say, The Lincoln Lawyer adaptation bites off a little more than it can chew.
Yet despite itself, the movie works. Probably because Matthew McConaughey is so sly and in control that he makes playing devil's advocate look cool. Rolling up in his Lincoln with his sunglasses on or displaying courtroom pyrotechnics of the most audacious variety, McConaughey's Micky Haller is a legal leech you can get behind. Watch how he plays both sides of the litigating coin simultaneously in the climax. (Such a bravura display of lawyering deserves a standing O). Like I said, there is something about the courtroom that makes it a hotbed for drama: the lives at stake, the chess match between prosecution and defense, the sweating witnesses grilled on the stand, and everything guided by the authoritative hand of civilization. (Guilty or not, everyone has a right to a trial). For all these reasons, The Lincoln Lawyer is proof that as long as there are courts, there will be courtroom movies.