THE LINCOLN LAWYER is a smart, taut, and well-told neo-noir. The setting is Los Angeles, among the low-lifes and the well-to-do, where they meet and the consequences thereof. It follows the formula for such genre flicks, but has an impudent originality in the telling.
The titular lawyer, Michael Haller (Matthew McConaughey) is a savvy practitioner of his profession, an expert in playing the loopholes and gray areas of the law without ever quite breaking it. In fact, hes stickler for maintaining in impeccable record in that regard. Hence, it is the surprise of his life when he finds himself played by the very system he had thought to have mastered. The case is assault of the most heinous nature on a prostitute with more than a shadow of suspicion cast on her. The earnest defendant (Ryan Phillippe), the privileged son of a sleekly turned-out and prominent mother (Frances Fischer), and the innocence he so fiercely claims becomes just one more puzzle as the past barges in on Michael and shakes his faith in many things.
Nothing is as straightforward as it seems, and thats what makes the film intriguing. Michael is more complex than a showy car and a driver might indicate. Or the fact that his primary pursuit is of the almighty dollar, not justice, the cause of contention with his sultry ex-wife Maggie (Marisa Tomei), a prosecutor with whom he shares a daughter and more than a spark of the old magic. Theirs is a complex relationship in which trust is key, but not inviolate. Colorful characters abound, creating a multi-textured landscape, including William H. Macy as Michaels shaggy and acerbic investigator, Frank, the twitchy bail-bondsman (John Leguizamo), who sets the action in motion, and a motorcycle gang that may be operating on the wrong side of the law, but whose sense of right and wrong is sacrosanct.
McConaughey, an actor much given to showing off is well-defined abs, here refrains from that in favor of showing off a superb performance of considerable depth that is both understated and effective as a guy who knows how to use both the force of his intellect and of his charisma in order to shape the world to his liking. Like the story itself, which is rife with slick twists that get in his way, he keeps the audience guessing about what his next move will be to counter them. He works within a framework of direction that is equally slick, solid performances throughout, and a script that gives the audience time to puzzle over what is happening, but that never drags.
THE LINCOLN LAWYER is the best kind of noir thriller, one that takes infinite care in dissecting how the justice system runs not on right and wrong, but rather on how justice itself is wheedled, spun, and otherwise finessed towards an verdict by everyone involved. It may not make for peace of mind, but it does make for an intelligent visit to the movies.