Blu-Ray Review: ‘The Lincoln Lawyer’ Offers Ideal Vehicle For Matthew McConaughey

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CHICAGO – It’s easy to forget just how good of an actor Matthew McConaughey can be with the right vehicle. He delivered what may be his best performance to date in Jill Sprecher’s 2001 multi-character drama “Thirteen Conversations About One Thing,” in which he played a slick lawyer whose unbreakable self-esteem is shattered by a sudden crisis of conscience.

Over the past decade, McConaughey has chosen projects that seem designed to ignore the promise he sported in his earlier work. An assortment of forgettable romantic comedies have required him to do little more than fulfill the role of charismatic eye candy. What’s striking about McConaughey’s triumphant comeback effort, “The Lincoln Lawyer,” is the fact that it casts him as a lawyer not unlike the one he played in “Thirteen Conversations,” or for that matter, 1996’s “A Time to Kill.” Perhaps it’s the tension of a courtroom that awakens McConaughey’s desire to stretch his dramatic muscles rather than his abs. Blu-Ray Rating: 4.0/5.0
Blu-Ray Rating: 4.0/5.0

Based on Michael Connelly’s page-turner of the same name, the film centers on Mickey Haller (McConaughey), a suave defense attorney whose office is in the form of an equally suave Lincoln Town Car. He must be well paid, in light of the current gas prices, but his portable business is exceedingly appropriate, considering the distance between L.A.’s various courthouses. His clientele is generally of the unsavory variety, causing his peers to consider him as much of a thug as the men behind bars. Even his affectionate ex-wife, prosecutor Maggie (Marisa Tomei), is skeptical about his moral code. “I’m keeping dirtbags off the street, you keep putting them back,” she yells, while Haller grimaces as if he’s heard it all before. Haller may be the target of many shady characters, but he’s no pushover. He doesn’t even flinch while negotiating with a burly biker bang. So when his latest high-profile client, realtor Louis (Ryan Phillippe), fudges a fact in his initial confession, Haller doesn’t hesitate to confront him like a betrayed parent. Yet Louis turns out to be a lot more trouble than Haller bargained for, thrusting the lawyer into a trap where he’s forced to defend a man he not only doesn’t trust, but who may actually be guilty of a crime that sent an innocent former client to prison.

Matthew McConaughey and Ryan Phillippe star in Brad Furman’s The Lincoln Lawyer.
Matthew McConaughey and Ryan Phillippe star in Brad Furman’s The Lincoln Lawyer.
Photo credit: Lionsgate Entertainment

Screenwriter John Ramano’s adaptation is solid for the most part, though the condensed structure causes a few of the final plot twists to register as contrived head-scratchers. But director Brad Furman keeps the film well-paced and thoroughly compelling throughout, while giving nearly every member of his superb ensemble a moment to shine. Phillippe projects a steely coldness even as he’s squeezing out tears for the jury, providing an ideal opponent for McConaughey. Yet it’s Michael Peña in a small but powerful cameo that first causes McConaughey’s composed façade to crumble. Cinematographer Lukas Ettlin (“Middle Men”) includes several extended shots that effortlessly glide around Haller, elegantly illustrating the complex dynamics between various characters. Though the star is supported at every turn by a gallery of character actors firing on all cylinders, McConaughey anchors the flick with his magnetic presence and absorbing portrayal of a conscience in deep crisis. It would be great to see the actor choose more roles like Haller, but if the surfboard on his character’s wall is any indication, there may indeed be more “Fool’s Gold” spinoffs in his future. Let’s hope he decides to go the route of Paul Newman as opposed to Paul Walker.

The Lincoln Lawyer was released on Blu-Ray and DVD on July 12, 2011.
The Lincoln Lawyer was released on Blu-Ray and DVD on July 12, 2011.
Photo credit: Lionsgate Entertainment

“The Lincoln Lawyer” is presented in impeccable 1080p High Definition (with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio), accompanied by a DVD and digital copy of the film, and includes a few brief but rewarding extras. A handful of deleted scenes offer additional character texture to Haller, as well as feature glimpses of the relationship he maintains with his young daughter (which would’ve made Phillippe’s threats even more unsettling). One moment that could’ve easily stayed in the picture is a car ride where Haller admits that he listens to rap music in order to better understand his clientele. An all-too-brief conversation between McConaughey and Connelly hints at the possibility of a sequel, since the actor claims he’d tackle any further material that the author would write for Haller (he’s fond of playing a “bottom-feeder with heart”). In a 13-minute making-of featurette, McConaughey says that he had once envisioned himself becoming a criminal defense attorney, which may explain why he’s so good at playing them. He sought out director Furman after watching his 2007 feature debut, “The Take.” Josh Lucas said one reason why he took the role of rival lawyer Ted Minton was the chance to play opposite McConaughey, since Lucas had been told earlier in his career that he bore a striking resemblance to the actor. The comparison is justifiable, though Lucas’s eyes are considerably harder and better equipped for villainous roles (such as the killer in “Undertow”).
Far and away the best special feature is a 10-minute car ride with Connelly, who guides the viewer through various L.A. locations that inspired his work. It’s an uncommonly atmospheric tour of the city enhanced by the author’s impassioned insight. Various courthouses and other governmental buildings were used as a physical embodiment of the state, which wins the vast majority of cases, and makes lawyers like Haller an automatic underdog. It was the work of literary giants like Raymond Chandler that inspired Connelly to write in the first place, and it was a screening of Robert Altman’s 1973 Chandler adaptation, “The Long Goodbye” that first attracted him to the lore of L.A. After struggling through his twenties, Connelly moved out to L.A. at age 30, and had his first publishable novel written within a year. Connelly notes that it’s the physical contradictions of the city that make for great drama. He also reminisces about the night he heard a lawyer utter the line that ended up functioning as the “centerpoint” of his “Lincoln Lawyer” novel and the subsequent film: “There is no client as scary as an innocent man.”

‘The Lincoln Lawyer’ is released by Lionsgate Entertainment and stars Matthew McConaughey, Ryan Phillippe, Marisa Tomei, Josh Lucas, John Leguizamo, Michael Peña, Frances Fisher, Bryan Cranston and William H. Macy. It was written by John Romano and directed by Brad Furman. It was released on July 12, 2011. It is rated R. staff writer Matt Fagerholm

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