Saturday, July 9, 2011

This Lawyer Needs Less Clients - "The Lincoln Lawyer" Review

When the The Simpsons Movie was released in the summer of 2007 it was widely criticized as being just a longer episode of the show, not deserving of a theatrical release.  To counter this sentiment, the writers included a line in the movie where Homer made this exact same complaint before mocking the audience for paying to see The Simpsons Movie.

While The Lincoln Lawyer isn’t based on a television show, it opens itself up to the same criticism.  The movie feels like a full season of a TV series crammed into a 2-hour film, in all the good and bad ways.  However, unlike The Simpsons Movie it is completely unaware of this criticism.

Matthew McConaughey stars as Mick Haller, a not-quite sleazy LA-based attorney who uses his Lincoln Town Car as a sort of mobile office, though why this is the case is never really explained (he even has a secretary). Mick uses his street-smarts, ruthlessness, and cockiness to work his way around all the facets of the legal system.

His friend, a bail bondsman, brings him a new case for a rich sleaze-ball, Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe), who is being held on charges of assault and battery. Roulet may or not be guilty, but Mick takes the case and is devoted and obligated to defend his client, whether he wants to or not.

The Lincoln Lawyer starts out strong with some early twists, which set up some truly head-scratching concepts. These early ideas quickly lose their effectiveness as they never develop beyond their early concepts. Instead, the film focuses on introducing new concepts well beyond its first act’s conclusion.

With Matthew McConaughey, Marisa Tomei, Ryan Phillippe, William H. Macy, Josh Lucas, John Leguizamo, Michael Peña, and Bryan Cranston; The Lincoln Lawyer has a cast that would make any film jealous. Unfortunately, while each actor does a great job (especially William H. Macy) the script never gives them much to do. Some characters show up for literally five minutes before fading away into the background.

This would be acceptable if they brought something interesting to the script, like Alec Baldwin did when he stole the show in Glengarry Glen Ross.  Half of the characters in the film could be removed and what would result is a meaner, leaner film.

With all the additional characters come additional plot lines that are never really touched upon. One scene shows Mick’s daughter and a semi-custody battle that he has with his ex-wife (Marisssa Tomei) - the last time the audience will see his daughter who is never mentioned again. At one point, the film shows the effects that sleep deprivation is having on Mick, but these effects never factor into the story.

Things are not all bad, though, there are some truly engaging courtroom drama scenes and Matthew McConaughey’s performance is engaging enough to entertain. However, when The Lincoln Lawyer tries to tie up its multitude of divergent storylines, audiences are treated to a half hour of different endings, with each one less effective than the last.

In addition, all of this is made to feel even more like a TV courtroom drama by its underwhelming visuals. The film never knows what style it is going for, often switching sloppily between handy cam and a fixed camera, as if director Brad Furman had a handful of ideas and tried to execute them all half-heartedly.

The Lincoln Lawyer has a strong and under-utilized cast, a script that is entertaining but bloated, and messy visuals. If you are a fan of serialized courtroom drama this film might be right up your alley, just don’t think about it too hard.

2 / 4 Reels



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