I’m a man on a mission, watching lawyer movies one at a time to find the GOAT. So far, I’ve been watching films from ABA’s Top 25 in no particular order. But this week, I decided to watch a movie that didn’t make the list but that is nonetheless a popular recent entry to the Lawyer Movie genre…
The Lincoln Lawyer
2011 dir. Brad Furman
Alright, alright, alright, “The Lincoln Lawyer” starring Matthew McConaughey, is a legal thriller about a defense attorney caught in an impossible situation. Mick Haller is the Lincoln Lawyer, so named because he runs his law practice out of the back seat of his car. He makes a handsome living defending bikers and gangbangers, and he doesn’t care what you think about it. His license plate: NTGUILTY.
Mick seems like a caricature at first: he’s a cynical, dishonest sleaze, willing to defend anyone and only in it for the money. He turns out not to be cynical at all, though. In fact, he’s an idealist. He believes in the presumption of innocence and integrity of the adversarial system.
One day, he gets a referral from a friend to defend a rich young man (Ryan Philippe) accused of attempted rape and murder. It turns out that the defendant requested Mick specifically… something about an old case of his. Complications follow. There is intrigue. There is suspense. Are things as they seem? Possibly not. Is it all connected? It just might be.
You won’t be bored watching “The Lincoln Lawyer,” even though you probably won’t be much edified by it either. The movie is dense with twists and revelations. Most of them are surprising enough, and while the story doesn’t exactly break the mold, it certainly passes the time.
It’s hard to say much more about the plot without giving it away, so I’ll discuss the big twist – and why I think it’s kind of lame – in a special SPOILERS section below.
If you haven’t seen “The Lincoln Lawyer,” and you’re into legal thrillers and shows like “Law and Order: SVU,” then I definitely think you should check it out. Matthew McConaughey does a great job playing Matthew McConaughey; Ryan Philipe is mad creepy; the plot will suck you right in, and it sort of makes sense if you don’t think about it too much. Michael Pena makes an appearance and is terrific as an innocent man facing wrongful imprisonment; it is the movie’s best scene. William H. Macy and Marisa Tomei are both featured as well, though they don’t have much to do. Overall, the movie is an entertaining lawyer flick. It is currently available to rent and stream on iTunes and Youtube.
Okay, for those of you who have already seen the film, I have one big complaint about the plot that I think keeps “The Lincoln Lawyer” out of GOAT contention. Ryan Philippe’s character, Louis Roulet, hired Mick to get a potential enemy on his side and hamstring him with attorney-client privilege. This puts Mick in the position of defending someone he knows is guilty – not only of attempted rape but of at least two other counts of murder. So Mick has to choose between the truth and the law.
This, in and of itself, is a great conflict, but it takes the drama out of the courtroom proceedings. It puts you, the viewer, in the position of rooting against the protagonist, particularly as he cross-examines Roulet’s victim who has had the courage to take the stand. I get that that’s how the system works, but it’s no fun to watch Mick bully a rape victim.
Besides, the movie ends up having/eating its cake anyway when Mick has Roulet beaten up by a biker gang. So it’s not like it makes an honest case for respecting procedural and legal limitations on our sense of justice.