Ah, Matthew McConaughey. Not, it is fair to say, many people’s favourite actor – most of his recent films have been, well, dreadful; with McConaughey seeming to choose roles purely on the basis of the resulting pay-check and whether they offer him a chance to take his shirt off. So what a pleasant surprise it is to see him give the performance of a lifetime in The Lincoln Lawyer Brad Furman’s adaptation of the best-selling novel by Michael Connelly.
McConaughey plays sleazy criminal lawyer Mick Haller, a man who specialises in getting (well-paying) criminal clients acquitted. When a real estate mogul’s son is accused of assaulting a prostitute, Haller thinks he has a slam-dunk case to get him released. Naturally, things don’t quite play out that way. But while the premise is unoriginal, the way the plot twists its way towards its conclusion is not – there’s enough of the unexpected here to keep the audience guessing and director Furman does an effective job of creating a menacing atmosphere as things begin to get out of hand for Haller.
Furman also receives able support from his cast. Ryan Philippe, playing against type as an evil killer, is a revelation, his boyish good-looks only making his terrifically creepy performance all the more notable. Marisa Tomei, playing Haller’s ex-wife, is also as excellent as ever. But it is McConaughey’s performance that truly carries the film – he approaches his role with a grit that has been completely absent from recent performances, his sardonic, sleazy cool finally playing off. It’s a career-best performance by an actor who has often promised much and delivered little.
All of which makes The Lincoln Lawyer’s second half even more of a disappointment. A long-winded court trial dissipates the tension created in the first hour and sucks most of the energy from the film. Gaping plot holes begin to appear, a side-effect, perhaps, of having to trim much of the novel’s content to fit into two hours. This leads to several plot lines never being properly tied up (the film begins to examine the motives of a murderer at one point, and then completely ignores them for the rest of its running time) and the story itself is far too perfunctorily wrapped up, with one late plot reveal rushed by so quickly you’ll miss it if you blink.
All this is not, however, to say that The Lincoln Lawyer is a bad film. It’s a perfectly serviceable and often quite tense legal thriller, with some sterling performances. It could have been so much more, which is certainly disappointing. However, for McConaughey at least, it’s a step in the right direction.