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Review: The Lincoln Lawyer (2011)

The Lincoln Lawyer (2011)

Directed by: Brad Furman

Premise: A defense attorney (Matthew McConaughey) defends a wealthy young man (Ryan Phillippe) who is accused of assaulting a woman. As the attorney gets deeper into the case he finds himself in a dangerous conflict of interest that could risk his career and even his life.

What Works: The Lincoln Lawyer is primarily intended as a thriller as opposed to a courtroom drama and the film manages to be sufficiently entertaining. Although its plot is not extraordinary or innovative, it does manage to be engaging and entertaining as a feature length version of the stories usually told on television crime dramas like CSI or Law and Order. What is most impressive and in some ways refreshing about The Lincoln Lawyer is the performance by Matthew McConaughey. Earlier in his career, McConaughey achieved star status with impressive performances in challenging and unique films like A Time to Kill, Contact, and Edtv but more recently his film choices have been bottom-of-the-barrel romantic comedies in which he lazily phoned-in his performances. The Lincoln Lawyer is a return to form for McConauhey. Although he is playing the same kind of slick and ambitious but ethically sound good guy that he’s done before, McConaughey does it well and uplifts the potboiler material of the script by creating a very flawed but likeable character and playing out the ethical conflicts in a way that make the audience engage with the themes of justice and integrity that the story grazes upon. Also impressive in The Lincoln Lawyer is Michael Peña as a former client of McConauhey’s character and Peña is very good in the few scenes he is in, contributing a lot to film’s themes.

What Doesn’t: The Lincoln Lawyer has some serious failings that shackle it to the realm of a standard thriller. The mystery of the defendant’s guilt is resolved too quickly and in a very obtuse way; at times the film plays like a network TV movie of the week. This fault is made worse by the miscasting of Ryan Phillippe as the good looking, bad boy defendant. There is nothing threatening about Phillippe and it is hard to believe that he could or has committed these violent acts. But the biggest sin of The Lincoln Lawyer occurs in the ending. The climax arrives and it is a satisfying conclusion to the conflict, but then the film goes on for about another twenty minutes with a strung out second and third climax that are at first incredulous and later very stupid.   

Bottom Line: The Lincoln Lawyer is an acceptable and enjoyable—if average—thriller. There’s nothing in it that stands out in any meaningful way but it does tell an entertaining story of law and justice.

Episode: #334 (April 10, 2011)