Based on the novel by Michael Connelly, The Lincoln Lawyer is one loud, swaggering showoff of a thriller. It is well-acted and decently written … but there’s something about director Brad Furman’s approach that invites us to ignore all of that and just revel in the surface excitement. Bursting at the seams with flashy photography, attractive people and the usual courtroom dramatics, this movie would probably feel cheap if it wasn’t so much fun. There’s a not-so-fine line between acting and simply hamming: Matthew McConaughey jaunts along that line as few others can. Here he plays L.A. defense attorney Mick Haller. Mick gets a lot of flack for representing the city’s worst offenders, but his greasy charm assures that he always gets what he wants. As he hops slickly around town in his spotless Lincoln town car, it seems obvious that what he wants most is a never-ending stream of fat paychecks. His latest client is a rich kid named Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe), who is accused of brutally beating a prostitute. As Mick would tell you, a defense lawyer’s biggest fear is a genuinely innocent client, so he naturally doubts Roulet’s insistent denials. With the help of his shaggy-haired investigator Frank Levin (William H. Macy), Mick slowly begins to unravel the case and finds some disturbing connections to his own past. There are probably some lofty thematics attempted here, but it’s best not to take it too seriously. Instead, just enjoy the myriad delights of another tense courtroom interrogation or the suspense as our hero begins to connect the dots after we’ve already figured out a few things. Besides Furman’s style, none of this would likely work at all without such a solid cast. The supporting players are most exciting. Macy is a joy, as always, and Phillippe is pretty convincing as a wealthy little twerp. But we also have Marisa Tomei toughing it out in a shoddily written role as Mick’s ex-wife, and Bryan Cranston as the obligatory crusty cop. Josh Lucas stands out as prosecuting attorney Ted Minton, a newcomer who learns a bit too late that he’s in over his head. And Shea Whigham’s Corliss is a longtime prisoner and part-time snitch who manages to blow nearly every other performer out of the water in just a handful of scenes. The movie is good, which means that McConaughey, despite his occasionally annoying persona, is convincing and captivating on one level or another. After all, this is one of those run-of-the-mill movies brought to life and banked entirely on the charisma of one lead actor. There’s no doubt he’s an engaging presence when high on his luck, but he’s hard to take seriously when things get dark and lonely. Hollywood has been making this movie over and over for a long time; they just don’t always do it well. The Lincoln Lawyer is not particularly original or surprising, but it does manage to cover this all-too-familiar territory confidently, convincingly and stylishly. Grade: C+


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