Aside from the slightly banal and unfortunately alliterated title, there is very little wrong with The Lincoln Lawyer. The film is a typical crime drama/lawyer-procedural hybrid and in some ways it is strange that it is so good considering that there is no real twist in the way that movies like Primal Fear, with Richard Gere and Edward Norton, promise and build up to. It is also very much worth mentioning that this very accomplished film is made by a relatively unknown Brad Furman who, just eleven years ago, was "assistant" to Julia Roberts in Erin Brokovich and The Mexican. (note: don't bother watching The Mexican).
It is the tremendously talented and very "unstarry" cast that makes the film so memorable via its characters. Even the usually annoying Matthew McConaughey with his unfortunate tan and surfer dude persona is perfect as the wheeling dealing Mick Haller, a crime lawyer with a heart of gold and a reassuring southern accent. Haller is making his way through life defending the scum of California: drug dealers, hookers, petty thieves etc. He makes his way from case to case in his Lincoln Town Car (which is his mobile office) driven by a cool driver and side-kick called Earl.
One day he gets a tip-off from a bail bondsman Val Valenzuela (played by a wonderfully shifty John Leguiziamo) that a rich kid is in prison accused of beating and attempting to rape a prostitute, and that this case might be the jack-pot he's been waiting for. The rich kid turns out to be Louis Roulet (played by the baby-faced Ryan Phillipe) and he is the kind of trust-fund baby with the cool as a cucumber mother and a host of family lawyers. Somehow, it turns out, Roulet had read of Mick Haller's smooth tactics and insists on hiring him to defend him at the trial.
As Haller starts to investigate, certain disconcerting details begin to emerge. Roulet has insisted from the very beginning that he is utterly innocent, and his explanation of how he got himself into this situation is so absurd that Haller begins to think it might just be true. Slowly though, as Frank Levin (a marvelously bearded William H. Macy) Haller's investigator starts to dig into the case, a few troubling details surface. Roulet's knife is the knife found at the scene, and Haller is troubled that Louis has lied about its existence. As the case starts to unfold Haller is struck one day, as he is pouring over the crime scene details, at the unusual bruises on the face of the attacked prostitute. She has been beaten, very severely, but only on the left side of the face. Something clicks in his head – a few years ago, he had defended a certain Jesus Martinez (Michael Pena), now in San Quentin prison for life, against a similar case -same bruises on the prostitute, except this time she had been raped and knifed to death. Martinez, too, had sworn that he was innocent.
As the film progresses one is struck by the fact that every character in this film has a fully rounded personality, and is there for a reason. Even the seemingly random gang of Hell's Angels that Haller defends for their various misdemeanours, and the alcoholic prostitute with a smart mouth come full circle in the story in an immensely satisfying way.
It is rare that such a typically genre film transcends its narrow boundaries and is able to really grip and entertain the viewer without being a sensationalising, overly violent version of itself. Brad Furman's film is very much worth watching, and one wonders and hopes that his next film will be at least as good.
All DVDs reviewed in this column are available in the writer's favourite DVD store: Music and Expression, Thamel, Phone # 014700092