Let me make this very clear: I do not like Matthew McConaughey. I can count on one hand the movies I can stand to watch him in (the stoner classic Dazed and Confused and the underrated psychological thriller Frailty rank among them), but most of the time he plays the same smug, smarmy guy that I wish I saw less of in the world. So when I heard about The Lincoln Lawyer a few months back, it didn’t take me long to deign not to see it. Boy, was that a bad decision. Now that it is being released on DVD, I can see it for what it is-the best legal thriller to come out in far too long, the best performance McConaughey has ever given, and a story that leaves you guessing until the final reveal. It may not win Oscars, it may not be considered an altogether serious film, but it is damn good.
McConaughey begins the film exactly as you expect him to, looking as pompous as ever as a defense lawyer with a fly automobile. He rolls around in a Lincoln TownCar which frequently serves as a makeshift office, with vanity plates reading NTGUILTY. At first all he seems to be is a gifted punk lawyer who outmaneuvers the system to let the mildly guilty walk.
He plays a role in the legal system that is guaranteed, but rarely appreciated. The Defense Lawyer has one thing in mind – to get his client acquitted, regardless of the details of the case. If that lawyer does anything to suggest the client isn’t getting the best defense, frequently a mistrial is called, and he is out of a job. So it is crucial that he sacrifice morals in order to accomplish this, lest he become the target of accusations and suspicions. But one side effect of this is that the good defense attorneys generally end up working for actual criminals, and as such they get no respect from the legal community. And Mickey Haller (McConaughey) is the best of them all.
He takes on a case that is recommended to him by an assistant, a case in which a rich white guy (Ryan Phillipe) is accused of attempted rape, battery, a few assorted charges; basically that he brutally beat a girl up. He insists upon his innocence, and Haller believes him, due to the intensity with which he makes this claim.
SPOILER AHEAD, SKIP PARAGRAPH
But this is where things get tricky, and the crux upon which the rest of the film turns. What if it turns out your client is guilty? Or worse, what if he tells you, admitting other murders along the way? If you leave or throw the case, your reputation is irretrievably broken. Also, you have to take into account the fact that he is kind of a psychopath. On the other hand, if you stay on the case you violate the very justice system you so fervently try to uphold.
This film twists in and out, upside-down and sideways. It will throw you for loops when you think you’ve anticipated them, and then punch you in the gut one more time before it’s over. With every twist and turn, the things you held to be true are thrown up in the air, what you discarded is suddenly relevant, and you end up experiencing brief moments of a certain kind of terror, as if what occurs in this film requires no suspension of disbelief and people like this could exist.
It is impossible to say anything more about the movie without revealing even one of the dozens of minute revelations that emerge throughout. But if legal thrillers are your brand of salsa, if things like A Few Good Men, Primal Fear, Fracture, or The Pelican Brief crop up in your lists of favorite movies, this could replace them all. I expected nothing and was blown away, so prepare yourself for one of the most tautly written, expertly directed, character driven thrillers you are likely to see all year. And honestly, next year and the one after, too. It is that good.