When I’m not writing about movies or reality television, I work for a lawyer. Some people would describe me as being a receptionist but personally, I prefer the term office administrator. (Actually, what I’d really prefer would be to have people refer to me as “Dr. Bowman,” but that’s in the future.) As a result of my job, I’ve become jaded as far as “legal thrillers” are concerned. The fact of the matter is that most lawyers aren’t slick, most trials aren’t exciting, and most surprise witnesses will probably have their testimony ruled inadmissable. (Assuming, of course, that the testimony is allowed in the first place. It won’t be.) Add to that, attorney-client privilege is always presented as being some sort of grave and somber power like the one ring to unite them all.*
All of the usual legal thriller elements show up in Brad Furman’s new film, The Lincoln Lawyer. Slick attorneys, melodramatic courtroom theatrics, and a lot of discussion about attorney-client privilege, The Lincoln Lawyer has them all but, fortunately, director Furman presents these cliches with so much energy and such a fine attention to detail that you don’t really mind the fact that you’ve seen this movie a hundred times in the past.
In the Lincoln Lawyer, Matthew McConaughey plays a lawyer who operates from the backseat of his car and who finds himself hired to defend a spoiled rich kid (Ryan Phillippe) who has been accused of raping a prostitute. After McConaughey takes the case, it quickly becomes apparent to both him and his lead investigator (a nicely eccentric turn from William H. Macy) that not only is Phillippe guilty but he’s a serial murderer as well. Phillippe, however, quickly reveals that he doesn’t care if McConaughey knows that he’s guilty. After all, since McConaughey is Phillippe’s lawyer now, McConaughey can’t go to the police.
Ryan Phillippe makes for an imposing villain and Margarita Leviera (she played Lisa P. in Adventureland) also gives a sympathetic performance as his latest victim. However, the film is really a showcase for Matthew McConaughey who is at his full McConaugheyness here. Not only do you believe him as the type of lawyer who would operate out of the backseat of a car but you also totally buy it when he has to deliver potentially awkward lines like, “I’m trying to set things right!” This is probably his best performance to date, one in which all the bad acting habits of the past are totally appropriate for the character. If nothing else, The Lincoln Lawyer is worth seeing if just for Matthew McConaughey.
*Seriously, if you call up your lawyer and tell him that you’re planning on trying to blow up California in three weeks, attorney-client privilege isn’t going to protect you. So, don’t do it.