Take out your favorite Hollywood casting directory, look up "Southern charm, male," and near or at the top of the list you will find Matthew McConaughey. The playful, roguish actor has plied that charm effectively in mostly frivolous, comedic fare over the last decade. One might forget that McConaughey has strong drama chops, so long has it been since his early starring roles in A Time to Kill, Amistad, and U-571. In The Lincoln Lawyer, McConaughey combines the charm and the drama in a role tailor-made for him.
Mick Haller (McConaughey) is a sharp, smooth L.A. lawyer who works out of the backseat of his chauffeured Lincoln. Always on the lookout for wealthy clients, a shady contact (John Leguizamo) tips him off to the recent arrest of a real estate mogul's young adult scion (Ryan Phillippe), who may or may not have brutally raped a prostitute (Margarita Levieva).
What unfolds is a highly engaging, legal thriller that McConaughey sinks his teeth into, yielding one of the top performances of his career. Elevating this film even further is its stable of strong supporting actors, highlighted by William H. Macy's comedic-dramatic turn as Haller's shaggy investigator and long-time friend and Marisa Tomei's steely yet sweet touch as Haller's ex-wife and fellow lawyer. It is also great fun to see McConaughey's character match wits with prosecuting attorney Ted Minton, portrayed by Josh Lucas, another actor who would rank high on the "Southern charm" scale.
That being said, this film takes its subject matter seriously and graphically, earning an R rating for sexual content, language, and some violence.
At one point, Haller confesses to a confidant that he used to be afraid he wouldn't recognize innocence when he saw it, but now what scares him is pure evil. The Lincoln Lawyer does not shy away from the brutal ugliness of evil, but neither does the film neglect the difficult choices one often has to make to defeat it.
-Michael Leaser is editor of FilmGrace and an associate of The Clapham Group