Photo: Matthew McConaughey (left) and author Michael Connelly on the set of The Lincoln Lawyer. Photo credit: Lionsgate
From the moment that Matthew McConaughey steps into that Lincoln and leans back, surveying his “office,” he is Mickey Haller, the title character in the excellent The Lincoln Lawyer, the film based on the novel by Michael Connelly.
McConaughey’s smooth delivery, the way he flirts with Mickey’s near-conman persona and his cynical view of the law makes us almost forget that the actor has become more famous for starring in a string of dumb comedies or being photographed running shirtless.
Instead, The Lincoln Lawyer makes us remember how good McConaughey was in such dramas as A Time To Kill and Lone Star.
McConaughey aside, The Lincoln Lawyer works so well as a movie because it is as faithful to Connelly’s 2005 novel as it can get. It doesn’t scrimp on the twists and turns that Connelly wove into his novel nor does it neglect Mickey’s crisis of conscience, his angst about being a part-time father or the integrity that he has buried deep inside.
While a few elements of the book aren’t included, The Lincoln Lawyer keeps the spirit of the novel. Everything that needs to be in the movie version is here, even some of the dialogue.
The movie also has the look of and affection for Los Angeles that is pure Connelly. Each of Connelly’s novels is an homage to L.A., illustrating its best and worst. That is there on the screen including panoramic views of the cityscape.
Connelly’s The Lincoln Lawyer set a new milestone for this best-selling author. While faithful readers had long known that Connelly was a master at creating new, intriguing characters whether in his Harry Bosch novels or his stand-alones, he took a step further in The Lincoln Lawyer.
Here was, at first glimpse, an anti-hero of sorts, the epitome of what many of us believe is wrong with defense lawyers. The kind of lawyer who specializes in getting off his bottom-feeder clients. The kind of lawyer who is proud of the ads he’s placed on bus benches and billboards.
That the lawyer conducts business from the back of his Lincoln town car added to the anti-hero mystique.
The Lincoln Lawyer made it to No. 1 on the New York Times Best Sellers List for hardcover. It won the Macavity and the Shamus and was nominated for an Edgar.
Betrayal, manipulation and greed imbue the plot. In the film and the novel, Mickey is hired to defend Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe), a wealthy Beverly Hills playboy accused of attempted murder. Mickey is blinded by the dollar signs he sees in this case, but he also wonders if his client may be that rarity – an innocent man.
Each cast member shines in The Lincoln Lawyer. Phillippe’s wide-eyed innocence belies a seething ruthlessness. Phillippe makes us both want to offer Louis comfort and our unshakeable belief in his innocence while also making us very afraid. Oscar winner Marisa Tomei displays a steely resolve as Maggie McPherson, a prosecuting attorney who also is Mickey’s ex-wife and the mother of his daughter. The chemistry between Tomei and McConaughey shows us why their characters are divorced, yet still attracted to each other.
The always fascinating William H. Macy adds a bit of levity to his solid performance as Frank Levin, Mickey’s private investigator. Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston makes the most of his role as detective Lankford; as do country singer Trace Adkins as Eddie Vogel, the leader of a motorcycle gang; Shea Whigham (the sheriff on Boardwalk Empire) as jailhouse snitch Corliss; and John Leguizamo as bail bondsman Val Valenzuela.
Brad Furman, whose last movie was the obscure crime drama The Take in 2007, shows an affinity for directing a more nuanced film. The action never lags, even when Mickey is just tooling around Los Angeles, which is shown in all its glory – and all its grittiness.
While I still prefer the book to the movie, The Lincoln Lawyer has captured the essence of Connelly’s solid novel.
Connelly’s next novel also is a Mickey Haller novel, The Fifth Witness is due out April 5.
The Lincoln Lawyer is rated R for some violence, sexual content and language. Running time is 119 minutes.