fri 12/07/2024

The Lincoln Lawyer | reviews, news & interviews

The Lincoln Lawyer

The Lincoln Lawyer

Michael Connelly's novel makes a smooth transition to the screen

Matthew McConaughey's Mick Haller (left) with the slightly dodgy Val Valenzuela (John Leguizamo)

Former Los Angeles Times crime reporter Michael Connelly struck gold with his books about LAPD detective Harry Bosch, before pulling a deft gear-change with the creation of criminal defence attorney Mickey Haller in The Lincoln Lawyer.

The movie version, directed by Brad Furman and scripted by film and TV veteran John Romano, sticks pretty close to Connelly's novel, even if Matthew McConaughey's lead character has mysteriously morphed from Mickey to Mick.

Though rooted in a familiar low-life Los Angeles peopled by surly cops, hookers, petty criminals and irascible prosecutors, the film lifts itself above the ordinary with a crisp script and an excellent cast. Treasurable moments radiate from William H Macy as private investigator Frank Levin, dispensing wry one-liners while looking like Cheech spliced together with Chong. John Leguizamo is perfect as the weaselly bail bondsman Val Valenzuela, who brings Haller what looks like a juicy cash cow in the shape of Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe), an arrogant Beverly Hills rich kid accused of the attempted rape and murder of a prostitute. Marisa Tomei (pictured below) plays Maggie McPherson, Haller's ex-wife and a rather too sympathetic prosecuting attorney.

Inevitably the Roulet case isn't what it seems, and it soon dawns on Haller that he has walked into a fiendishly conceived trap, but not before we've been clued in to the kind of lawyer Haller is. Using the back seat of his battered Lincoln Continental as his mobile office, he's perpetually on the road defending downtrodden felons in the various far-flung courthouses of Los Angeles county. The only people he doesn't have to travel to meet are the Hell's Angels, who turn up in a bikers' posse and pull Haller over when they want a heads-up on his defence of a gang member on a drugs charge.

Lawyer_Tomei_trimWe also learn that Haller, something of a bottom-feeder on the defenders' circuit, isn't averse to the occasional money-skimming wheeze himself. He milks the Hell's Angels for a few extra grand on the bogus premise of flying in an expensive expert witness from New York, and he pulls a neat scam with a friendly freelance cameraman which involves buying his intrusive footage off him, billing it as expenses to the Roulet family's comfortably upholstered legal adviser, then splitting the proceeds between them.

I feared McConaughey would be too smooth and self-regarding for the role - those preening Dolce & Gabbana commercials really haven't done him any favours - but director Furman has played with the McConaughey image by starting him off looking terribly pleased with himself, then systematically knocking chunks out of him and adding stubble, bags under his eyes and a serious whisky habit as the plot steadily thickens. And he barely manages to take his shirt off once, in very dim light. I would never have used the word "convincing" about him before, but he mostly is here, even if his spasms of remorse about sending an innocent man to San Quentin feel overblown considering the kind of street-sweeping legal work he's been doing for years (lawyer with Lincoln, pictured below).

Lawyer_lincoln_trimFurman exploits some of LA's grimiest locations, and the action throws incidental light on the creaking machinery of the California legal system, but it's Connelly's original plot which makes the thing fizz along. Though his books can read more like an instruction manual than literature, he's brilliant at reassembling familiar thriller components to create new twists, and the story rings some ingenious changes on the "am I defending a guilty man?" theme. Roulet isn't just cold and nasty, he's cold, nasty and clever, and Phillippe tops him up with carefully gauged quantities of petulance and malice. Haller is his match (natch), and his courtroom trick in which he coolly manipulates the jailhouse informant Corliss (a small role gleefully leveraged by Shea Whigham) should be in every lawyer's handbook of get-out-of-jail schemes.

If Michael Connelly is your man for the perfect airport paperback, this is the ideal movie-of-the-airport-paperback - it has calculated exactly what it needs to do, and carries it out with frill-free aplomb.

Watch the trailer for The Lincoln Lawyer

Roulet is cold, nasty and clever, and Phillippe tops him up with carefully gauged quantities of petulance and malice

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