No, it’s not about Abraham Lincoln, nor set in Lincoln, Nebraska. Slick Mick Haller (Matthew McConaughey) is a facile Southern California criminal defense attorney and, ever since he lost his driver’s license, he’s been driven around Los Angeles by his chauffeur Earl (Laurence Mason) in a sleek, black Lincoln Continental that doubles as his mobile office. Hence the title.
On a referral from a local bail bondsman (John Leguizamo), Mick’s newest client is a spoiled, arrogant, twentysomething rich kid, Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe), who insists that he’s innocent of any wrongdoing, vigorously denying that he raped and then viciously beat a young prostitute whom he met in a bar. His haughty Beverly Hills realtor mother (Frances Fisher) is disdainful of Mick’s aggressiveness but realizes that he’s her only hope for Louis’ acquittal against evidence acquired by the prosecutor (Josh Lucas). In addition, there’s Mick’s smart ‘n’ savvy ex-wife (Marisa Tomei), who works in the District Attorney’s office, and Mick’s intrepid investigator (William H. Macy), along with various cops (like Bryan Cranston) and crooks (like Michael Pare). Mix them all together and it gets quite complicated – and dangerous – as Mick finds himself trapped by the client-attorney privilege that prevents him from using any substantiation against Roulet, even when he obtains proof of his guilt.
Adapted by John Romano (“The Take”) from Michael Connolly’s best-seller, it’s directed by Brad Furman, who deserves extra credit for eliciting a credible performance from Matthew McConaughey, whom many (including me) had dismissed because of his seemingly endless, bare-chested appearances in series of quickly forgettable romantic comedies, including “Fool’s Gold,” “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past,” “Failure to Launch,” “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days,” etc. And in interviews, McConaughey admits that when he attended University of Texas, he’d considered becoming a defense lawyer. Yet just one look at smug Ryan Phillippe indicates that he’s undoubtedly guilty of something.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Lincoln Lawyer” churns up a cheesy 5. It’s a hard-boiled police procedural, tracing its antecedents back to Raymond Chandler.