Anyone who saw “A Time To Kill,” the riveting 1996 film based upon John Grisham’s equally engaging novel of the same name, will know what I mean. In that movie, McConaughey had the part of Jake Brigance, who defended an African American father (Samuel L. Jackson) for killing the two white men who raped and left for dead his 11-year-old daughter in Mississippi during the late 1980s. McConaughey’s performance is consistently brilliant, and his closing argument is quite simply one of the most powerful scenes in the history of cinema.
In “The Lincoln Lawyer,” a new film based upon Michael Connelly’s novel of the same name, McConaughey plays defense attorney Mick Haller, and he comes very close to matching his performance in “A Time to Kill.” And he also has created a character that has the potential to appear in recurring films.
Mick is anything but a stereotypical Los Angeles attorney. His client pool includes drug dealers, prostitutes, and bikers, and his office is the back seat of his Lincoln Continental, which is driven by is faithful chauffeur, Earl (Laurence Mason), because Mick lost his driver’s license because of a DUI charge. Oh yes, his license plate reads NTGUILTY.
Early in the film, we have the chance to watch Mick conduct business, and he is a very clever lawyer particularly adept at plea- bargaining. We also learn that he has a young daughter and an ex-wife (Marisa Tomei), who is a prosecuting attorney and with whom he still maintains a more than amicable relationship.
Because of the clients Mick accepts, he doesn’t make a ton of money, and he even has trouble collecting from some of them. But then the case of a lifetime falls into his lap when an extremely wealthy young man named Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillipe) hires Mick to defend him against charges of attempted rape and murder.
At their initial meeting, Roulet insists that he is completely innocent, offers Mick his version of what occurred on the night of the crime, and maintains that the only record he has with the law is in the form of traffic tickets. On the surface the case looks like a breeze and a big payday for Mick, but surface appearances can be deceiving.
As Mick continues to look into the case with the help of his investigator and close friend, Frank Levin (William H. Macy), he finds out that Roulet may have been withholding some important information about the case. And when the case ends up going to trial, Mick becomes ensnared in web of deception and murder that endangers his family.
Despite a few lose ends here and there, “The Lincoln Lawyer” offers consistently outstanding acting in addition to a gripping story filled with a number of twists, plenty of mystery, and some great courtroom scenes. Also, Mick is the kind of character that leaves us wanting to see more of him in future films. In the production notes, McConaughey offered some interesting insight into Mick.
“Many people would likely consider Mick an ambulance chaser, a guy who’s a bottom feeder. He’s a guy who’s financially living from month to month, trying to support his ex-wife and his daughter, and defending people like prostitutes or someone busted on a drug charge, and a lot of smaller crimes. The truth is, Mick might have been a Beverly Hills entertainment lawyer and succeeded, but the guy’s got a lot of heart and humanity, and that’s why I think he stayed with the bottom level criminals. It’s where he feels the most needed, where he feels the most humane, and it’s where he’s comfortable. Mick’s been consistent with who he is from the beginning.”
And being the consummate actor that he is, McConaughey, who at one time aspired to be a lawyer, prepared for the part well.
“When I was in college at the University of Texas, I was going to be a criminal defense lawyer. For the film I tried to understand all the details of being a defense lawyer. I had a lot of questions for different lawyers about the technical aspects: What’s the reality of this situation? How would this go down? Where did I get this information? If my private investigator got bad information, how did he get it?”
McConaughey is so good in this film because you never have the feeling that he’s acting, and the way he moves around the courtroom is so believable that I would hire him in a minute if I found myself in dire need of a defense attorney. He has imbued Mick with the same irresistible charm that he gave Jake Brigance.
Complementing McConauhey’s work beautifully in this film are the performances turned in by Macy, Tomei, Phillipe, and Michael Pena as an accused murderer, John Leguizamo as a snitch, and Francis Fisher as Roulet’s domineering mother.
If you enjoy legal dramas (I love them.), “The Lincoln Lawyer” is a good one, and, as a bonus, it evolves into quite a thriller. My verdict is that this movie earns a solid eight, and if you accuse me of wanting to see more Mick Haller films, I definitely plead guilty.