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Outlet: MR VIDEO
Film: The Lincoln Lawyer
Director: Brad Furman
Screenplay: John Romano
Players: Matthew McConaughy, Marisa Tomei, Ryan Phillippe, Michael Pena, William Macey
Genre: thriller; action; legal drama
Rating: ***½

The hero, Nick Haller, (McConnaughy) is a smooth-talking, street-wise lawyer who spends a considerable proportion of his working life at the jail, dredging up dubious clients with the aid of a jail guard and being driven round by a chauffeur, Harold Earl, in a Lincoln automobile with the number plates NTGUILTY. It is the kind of character that McConnaughy can play very well: he is not a noble character but rather a pragmatic one and in the opening sequence Earl is squiring him around in the Lincoln to the resounding rhythm of the song, ’Ain’t no love in the heart of the city’.
Haller represents criminals and the question of their possible innocence never arises. He is trained to catch their business and to look for the legal loopholes to enable them to spring back into the world of crime as soon as legal formalities are disposed of.
His nemesis arrives in the form of Lewis Roulet (Phillippe) a sociopathic socialite who has inherited a profitable real estate business from his mother. This charming but unsavoury character is up on the charge of sexually attacking and injuring a female. Within nano-seconds of securing the legal responsibility of proving his client innocent, Haller has organised bail because the socialite mother is sensitive about the press and the fact that ‘Clients get profile”. At the same time, Haller is immured in other less lucrative cases such as the prostitute Gloria who was paid for her services with cocaine, and a client (Pena)who is serving 15 years for allegedly killing a prostitute but persists in claiming his innocence, accompanied by the proverbial tears of frustration.
To complicate matters Haller’s ex-wife Maggie(Tomei) is a Public Prosecutor and they share custody of a good-looking young daughter. She does not judge her ex-husband particularly harshly but she is very aware of his weaknesses. Most of the other officials in the judicial system despise Haller. One police detective spits out the question: “How does someone like you sleep at night? With all the scum that you represent? I’m trying to get dirt bags off the street and you keep putting them there.”
The Lincoln is trailed by an intimidating gang of Hell’s Angels because apparently Haller represents them, too. The Lincoln stops by the side of the road so that Haller can negotiate more money to pursue justice for his client. The Hell’s Angels are less intimidating than their bikes and are not averse to an amiable wrangle to part with more money.
Haller is trapped in an interesting dilemma. He has worked on the principle that his clients are guilty and need to be liberated by legal tricks and sleight of hand. He tells his wife in a vulnerable moment that “You know what I used to be afraid of, Maggie?…that I wouldn’t recognise innocence. Now?…pure evil!” He is sufficiently street-wise to understand eventually that Roulet’s effusive protestations of innocence, although entirely convincing and seemingly sincere, are probably untrue.
Roulet claims that the young prostitute probably saw signs of wealth and targeted him. Security video at a night club seems to support his story of being picked up. Phillippe is a talented actor whose good looks have probably been an impediment to success. He is strong in this role of a young man whose honest, open appearance belies an inherently evil nature.
His sidekick, an ex-detective, Frank (Macey) is assigned the plodding investigative work but is mysteriously killed with an antique gun. Haller has such a gun – or did have until it was stolen from his office.
Since this film is largely driven by plot it would be unfair to offer more spoilers. One needs to watch the film and work through the ironic reversals and unpredictable developments alongside the hapless Haller. The pace is slick and the cinematography is carefully crafted, if not creative. The fun for the viewer is to dog in Haller’s footsteps, guessing his next tricky manoeuvre to dodge the unexpected reversals. My only criticism of the plot is that the ending is rushed and all the loose ends are glossed over in a couple of lines of dialogue. It would have been far more satisfying to have reproduced these visually.
Haller’s transformation into a man with a conscience is achieved fairly satisfactorily but there are no enlightening moral messages to be derived from this: in fact, it might be considered distressing that whatever justice is finally achieved is definitely done Haller’s way – by harnessing the criminal underworld and calling in a few favours. The film was far more satisfying when the viewer followed the clues and trailed in the wake of Haller’s intuitive judgements. The essential irony, however, is that the honest man would have not been in a position to identify the travesty of justice and even less able to have righted the wrong. I suppose that does make Haller some sort of hero.

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