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Director: Brad Furman
Matthew McConaughey, Ryan Phillippe, Marisa Tomei, Josh Lucas, William H. Macy, John Leguizamo, Michael Peña
RunTime: 1 hr 59 mins
Released By: Cathay-Keris Films
Rating: PG (Sexual References and Violence)
Official Website: http://www.thelincolnlawyermovie.com/

Opening Day: 24 March 2011

Synopsis: Mickey Haller (Matthew McConaughey) is a Los Angeles criminal defense attorney who operates out of the back of his Lincoln sedan. Haller has spent most of his career defending garden-variety criminals, until he lands the case of his career: defending Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe), a Beverly Hills playboy accused of rape and attempted murder. But the seemingly straightforward case suddenly develops into a deadly game of survival for Haller. Based on the best-selling novel by Michael Connelly.

Movie Review:

Matthew McConaughey returns to the courtroom- after a string of rom-coms that had all but typecast him as the romantic cad- to play the sleek, smarmy and hustling defense attorney Mick Haller, a famed Michael Connelly character whose first appearance was in the book on which this film is based. It was back in 1996 when McConaughey first made his mark in Hollywood with a stunning lead debut in the legal thriller “A Time to Kill”, and it seems the years have not dimmed his ability to light up a courtroom.

With his signature slick charm, toothy grin and Southern drawl, McConaughey is dynamic as ever in “The Lincoln Lawyer”, the title a reference to his character’s workplace- the back seat of a Lincoln Continental whose registration plate reads “NTGUILTY”. Haller is chauffeured from courtroom to courtroom across Los Angeles by Earl (Lawrence Mason), a former client now offering his services in lieu of legal fees. His clientele belong in the rock-bottom of society- biker gangs, drug dealers, and prostitutes- and because of this, Haller’s expertise lies in negotiating plea bargains through finding loopholes that can get crucial evidence thrown out of court.

Cajoling, wheedling and sweet-talking are the tools of his trade- very early on, we see Haller sweet-talking a bailiff to get a case advanced on the docket, deliberately delaying the trial of a biker until he gets his fee, and plea bargaining on behalf of a hooker who accepted payment in crack cocaine- and McConaughey’s cocksure ease fits just right with his character. His latest client however is somewhat different, a Beverly Hills rich kid called Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe) who is being charged with assault and battery of a female escort. Haller knows that he has struck gold, but the case starts becoming more complicated when Louis insists that he is innocent and flatly refuses to accept any plea bargain.

The trailer will reveal more, but as with any crime thriller, the less you know the better. Suffice to say that veteran crime screenwriter John Romano has retained all the elements of Connelly’s twisty, cleverly plotted thriller, including Roulet’s overprotective matriarchal parent Mary Windsor (Frances Fisher), Haller’s reliable investigator Frank Levin (William H. Macy) and Haller’s ex-wife-cum-prosecutor Maggie McPherson (Marisa Tomei). Other characters that readers of Connelly’s book will instantly recognise are the bail bondsman Val (John Leguizamo) through whom Haller gets Roulet’s case, and Haller’s former client Jesus Martinez (Michael Pena) intimately connected with his latest case.

Romano had the unenviable task of condensing Connelly’s page-turning novel into a two-hour movie, and he does so superbly without losing any of the tension or suspense in the story. He also loses none of Connelly’s debates about the vagaries in the justice system, seeing as how attorneys like Haller manage to put the innocent in jail and the guilty back out on the streets. Haller’s crisis of conscience is also at the heart of the movie, and McConaughey gets to do some serious acting when his character is eventually confronted with the magnitude of his past follies.

On his part, director Brad Furman (The Take) keeps the pace of the movie crackling every step of the way, making this as much of a gripping yarn as reading Connelly’s novel. Furman’s most significant accomplishment is in employing Lukas Ettlin’s cinematography to give the movie a great sense of place amidst the less glamorous streets of Los Angeles, an unpretty look that suits the theme of the story just fine. Of course, Furman and Ettlin are equally adept when it comes to courtroom drama, and the back-and-forth questioning by Haller and the inexperienced prosecutor (Josh Lucas) unfolds with sizzling rhythm.

Kudos to Furman too for assembling a top-notch ensemble cast who do outstandingly in their various supporting roles- especially William H. Macy as the wisecracking investigator, and Shea Whigham as a colourful jailhouse snitch called on the prosecution to testify against Roulet. But the actor that holds the movie from start to finish is McConaughey- and just as how “The Lincoln Lawyer” became a star-making turn for Connelly regular Mick Haller, McConaughey’s performance here will also be a similarly definitive turn as the onscreen rendition of that character.

Movie Rating:

(Crackling with tension and suspense, and buoyed by an excellent performance by Matthew McConaughey, this twisty and well-plotted legal thriller is one of the best in years)

Review by Gabriel Chong


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