Questionable trust is part of the Matthew McConaughey entertainment package. Also, I suppose, a fair amount of arrogance. He surely loves himself, in that overly friendly, even smarmy way that seems immediately disarming. In The Lincoln Lawyer, that man is the life of this film, any of his films. And strange as it may sound, this is McConaughey’s best film in years. And this he accomplished shirted, with nary a hint of abs.
Before seeing The Lincoln Lawyer, ask yourself, how much McConaughey can you stand? One must if undertaking the film’s 119 minutes, because McConaughey is in nearly every frame. (Ask the same question regarding Bradley Cooper in Limitless.) As Mick Haller, he’s an L.A. defense attorney whose unkempt office, at least for two scenes, is the back seat of a chauffeured Lincoln town car – simply a mobile metaphor for Haller’s morality, yet more concretely scenic than a law office set with a giant photo of L.A. beyond the windows.
The Lincoln Lawyer opens with an extensive “walking and talking” tracking shot, often used to heap information on us by establishing location, exposition, and the general pecking order of characters in under a minute. It’s like the main character is saying, “I’m an important person. Things to do. Places to go. And although you are my colleague, I haven’t the time to stop and talk with you in this place where I work. So let’s walk briskly.” Pushy cinematic velocity. What The Lincoln Lawyer lacks in structural neatness, it makes up with energy and verbal repartee, buoyed by McConaughey’s innate “good guy” quality. This world revolves around Haller, and “walking and talking” shots are like crack for a character’s ego. Despite this, I find I usually, though regretfully, end up liking the McConaughey’s self-important characters.
After the initial perception of McConaughey’s ego dissipates, The Lincoln Lawyer develops less on a thematic level (McConaughey as the morally grey inside man minutely balancing travesties of justice for a fistfull of dollars), and more on a narrative one (a lawyer trapped in a legal Catch-22). Winding as the legal roads may be, Haller’s modus operandi is clearly stated: Paraphrasing Haller paraphrasing his deceased, defense attorney father: “I’m not so concerned about my client’s guilt, but if the system messes with my client, that’s where I come in.” So Haller works like justice system spyware. A minuscule lawyerly anti-virus.
Ryan Phillipe is neatly despicable as Louis Roulet, the entitled, preppy, Beverly-Hills-Golf-Club deuchebag who hires Haller. A client who remorselessly admits his guilt. And who, most insidiously, breaks Player Rule #1: Don’t play a player. For this upon him vengeance will certainly be enacted, and with prejudice. Good/bad, right/wrong, may not so much matter to Haller so long as the agreed-upon green crosses his palm. But screw around with Haller’s ego and put an innocent man behind bars, and um, you will pay. But the thing about Phillipe as an actor is, it’s as if he’s in the movie and he’s not. His career may be moving along a Kevin Bacon trajectory: connected to everyone, and yet lacking overall distinction as a lead. His screen life is the supporting player/character actor’s manifesto: be everywhere and nowhere in the eyes of the moviegoer.
The Lincoln Lawyer has a terrific supporting cast, William H. Macy in a Marlowe-ish, aged and laidback ex-surfer dude mode; John Lequizmo as a smarmy ex-con with loose lips; a reserved Josh Lucas as a “not in the know” prosecutor; Bryan Cranston as a bullying detective with a grudge against Haller; Michael Peña, all shaky and nervous and tearing-up scared as Roulet’s patsy; Marisa Tomei as Haller’s amicable ex-wife, an attorney and fellow plier of the legal trade who knows its unspoken code and trivialities; Frances Fisher as Roulet’s mother – the woman has predatory eyes. Snakelike. Who wouldn’t feel uneasy caught in her leer? I swear, if eyes could stab. And then there’s Shea Whigham, whose performance as an amusingly moronic witness for the prosecution – on screen for perhaps five minutes – is a character worthy of his own film.
It’s too early in director Brad Furman’s career to really decipher a particular personal style. However, it can be said he’s inclined to tell L.A. stories with California soul. His first feature, 2005’s The Take starred John Lequizamo as a L.A. armored car driver recuperating from an injurious robbery. And with The Lincoln Lawyer he’s fashioned a film with a West-Coast soul/hip-hop soundtrack that plays like a great mix tape. I loved it. I’ll probably have The Lincoln Lawyer CD on repeat for the next few days. (You must hear the “California Soul Lincoln Lawyer Remix,” despite there being something so very wrong with that title.)
Romantic comedies are not McConaughey’s way. His artificiality works as a lawyer, not a romantic love interest or slacker. His characters in Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days and Failure to Launch are not him, because, much as McConaughey may otherwise assess his acting abilities, he’s still an idealized version of a person we can’t relate to. We can’t relate to McConaughey in The Lincoln Lawyer, and that’s why he succeeds. He’s born to play an untouchable, shifty defense attorney. Note to Mr. McConaughey: if you play an everyone’s-your-buddy ne’er-do-well, you’re inversely out of your league. But if you play the fast-talking, slickly dressed, attorney anti-hero… it’s gold. Not fool’s gold. Just gold. Your agent must know this. So stay up there, snazzy and all. And remember, it’s not always about the abs.
This week, John and I discuss the Dark Castle flick Unknown, starring Liam Neeson, the Miguel Arteta comedy Cedar Rapids, and the DJ Caruso-directed, Michael Bay production I Am Number Four.
Plus our picks of the week. I say Tony Scott’s runaway train flick Unstoppable is an excellent Blu-ray choice, John implores you to put the anime Summer Wars in your player, and we both re-live the love of Mel Brook’s 1977 Alfred Hitchcock homage High Anxiety.
We recorded live at Panera Bread, next to the Regal Fenway 13 Theater in Boston.
As always, click on the links below and enjoy the show!
Joining John and me this week is Boston Phoenix film critic and Albany Times-Union blogger Peg Aloi. Our objective: discuss the new Anthony Hopkins thriller The Rite and the Javier Bardem melodrama Biutiful. Then John and I discuss the Jason Statham/Ben Foster actioner The Mechanic – in which I (attempt to) explain The Mechanic‘s unintentional homoeroticism. Such fun.
Lately John and I have been favoring the “live” recording process (we go to a restaurant or coffee shop, find a table, set down the recorder and begin), in part because Skype can be, um … kinda problematic. And eating and drinking while talking comes easy to us. So for the time being we’re sticking with it. Live recording, that is. And eating and drinking, which I’m told is helpful.
In this week’s episode, John and I discuss the Darren Aronofsky psycho-thriller Black Swan and the documentary Do It Again, journalist Geoff Edgers’ one-man quest to re-unite The Kinks, which plays December 10th through the 12th at the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge.
This week John and I discuss the new Clint Eastwood-directed paranormal thriller Hereafter. We also go on about Jackass 3D and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which is new to Blu-ray, and, as it so happens, performed each Saturday at midnight at the AMC Lowes Harvard Square Cinema.
Does Woody Allen still have something to say? Does Juliette Lewis have herself an Oscar-worthy performance? Does Bruce Willis go too far with self-parody?
These profound and important questions we ponder in our brand new audio oddity, the ingeniously titled Episode #45.
RED, Conviction and You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger are our topics of delight and distress.
And for our home video picks of the week, I say Ken Burn’s The 10th Inning, Neil Jordan’s Ondine, and NBC’s Modern Family: Season One are worth your time. Then John speaks kindly of Suck, the indie comedy vampire flick featuring indie band vampires. Key words: indie and vampire.
You can click and play now and feel the love, or download it. The choice is yours. We can do this the easy way or the hard way. You won’t like the hard way.