Before Matthew McConaughey was giving stand-out and Oscar-worthy performances in films such as DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (2013) and THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (2013) or in the popular HBO TV series “True Detective” yet after he was better known as that rom-com actor who seemingly took on a new career as a beach dude obsessed with constantly showing off his tauntly toned torso, there was a promising role that hinted of better days to come. Prophetically, Brad Furman’s LINCOLN LAWYER (2011) was released 3 years prior to McConaughey’s role as the pitchman for Lincoln Motors.
Based on the novel by Michael Connelly, THE LINCOLN LAWYER (2011) was in many ways a turning point for Matthew McConaughey. While he was successful commercially with romantic comedies and other light films, he hadn’t made very many successful dramatic roles since playing another defense attorney in A TIME TO KILL (1996). In the past few years, McConaughey has undergone a dramatic career transformation thanks to taking on more serious and indie film roles, starting around 2011 with roles like off-beat Mickey Haller as the defense attorney who utilizes a chauffeur-driven Lincoln Town Car as a means of business meetings, in addition to transportation.
Haller is accustomed to odd, low-paying jobs like defending a biker gang. He generally assumes his clients to be guilty and prefers it that way. At least he knows where he stands. But he agrees to take on a high-profile case of assault from a very wealthy family. His client Louis Roulet (Ryan Philippe) stands firm that he is innocent of brutally beating a prostitute. Meanwhile, via the assistance of his investigator Frank Levin (William H. Macy) this case leads them to revisit an old case where a man named Jesus Martinez (Michael Pena) is serving a life-sentence for murder, in a strikingly similar fashion. Based on Martinez’s response to the evidence, Haller doubts Roulet’s innocence and sees a parallel pattern. He questions whether Martinez is actually innocent after all.
Things get complex in the process of researching the clues that bring Haller to question his own moral compass. This is no longer a simple case. Roulet throws him curveballs along the way. We also get introduced to several side characters that oft challenge him in this journey of his own morality vs. winning a case, including his ex-wife Maggie (Marisa Tomei), the state’s earnest district attorney Ted Minton (Josh Lucas), cantankerous detective Lankford (Bryan Cranston) and betraying bail bondsman Val Valenzuela (John Leguizamo).
To me, THE LINCOLN LAWYER has some distinctly noir qualities. Haller in many ways acts like a private dick, more so than a defense attorney. I like that we see all the steps in his process from the initial client meeting, to prison visits, to his gathering of evidence, to the courtroom drama and all the interactions in between. We see him as a flawed individual with a drinking problem- hence the need for Earl the very likable and loyal driver (Laurence Mason), who wrestles with whether he’s uncomfortable as the good guy or comfortable as the guy who helps the bad guys. He irritates the police because he outsmarts them yet doesn’t follow their rules and he’s respected by the non-upstanding citizens, yet he doesn’t belong to either side. In addition, Roulet’s mother Mary Windsor (Frances Fisher) reminds me of Mary Astor’s character in THE MALTESE FALCON (1941) in ways I can’t quite put my finger on without also revealing some spoilers.
The plot has some nice twists and creates notable tension as it builds via plot details I’ve purposefully omitted to avoid spoilers. The cast is solid but I would’ve enjoyed seeing more character development into their back stories. It’s Matthew McConaughey’s performance that really stands out overall. And despite his southern drawl in a LA setting, it somehow works because this guy knows how to bring it.
This was my contribution to Movie Rob’s and TenStarsOrLess.com’s AUGUST ARGUMENTATIVE, the month-long blog series highlighting films focused on courtroom based features. Be sure to explore their blogs this month for more contributors.
3 thoughts on “THE LINCOLN LAWYER (2011)”
great work Kellee.
Thanks for participating!!
You are exactly right. This is the movie I always point to as a turning point for MM. I really enjoyed it. Nice review.
Thanks so much, Keith!