The movie can be almost summed up by its title. A lawyer, Mick Haller (Matthew McConaughey), rides around in a Lincoln Town Car meeting with clients and dispensing his flavor of criminal justice. Haller’s got baggage. Having lost his driver’s license sometime prior to the beginning of the movie, he employs a schooled tough guy driver who, when confronted by potential danger, says things like “boss, if you want me to get rid of this, I can.” But “boss-man” Haller takes care of things himself—he’s a man of action.
But he’s also a guy who understands how the system works and respects its intricacies. Haller knows that when the justice system works, it does so because of the complexity involved and not in spite of it. Therefore, at every turn, he solves conflict with a carefully laid out set of rules. In fact, many of these rules have been codified by a legislative body and are freely available for anyone to read. Early in the film, Haller visits with a client in a jail cell. The client, some kind of biker drug dealer, tells him that he can’t just resign from the case because the money has run out. But Haller well knows that that isn’t exactly right and with some careful phraseology manipulates the all-knowing Judge and prosecutor gaining more time for his client to deliver a key witness in the case—a Mr. Green.
Lawyers thrive on referrals and when a bail bondsman (John Leguizamo) brings a high profile criminal case to Haller, the story heats up. The case involves the brutal attack allegedly by pretty boy Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe) on a prostitute. After fetching a huge retainer, Haller and his team spring into action. Haller’s private investigator Frank Levin (William H. Macy) surreptitiously gets the police report and helps build the defense. The case is particularly concerning to Haller because he thinks that Louis might be innocent. Haller’s used to representing guilty people, which, he explains, takes much of the pressure off.
While not as significant as the Oscar nominated “Michael Clayton,” “Lincoln” is an efficient and entertaining legal thriller. Part of this is the casting headed by super cool McConaughey who uses his cheesy disposition to maximum effect. Exuding hippness galore, he finds a role in Haller worthy of his confident swagger and smug cool. And it helps that McConaughey is backed up by an impressive supporting cast. Marisa Tomei is just right as Haller’s ex-with-benefits with whom the two have a young daughter. Macy looks terrific as Haller’s distinctive ex-hippie investigator. It is also fun to see 1980s tough guy star Michael Paré playing a hulking police detective. Fans of “Breaking Bad” will be happy that Bryan Cranston gets in on the action playing another police detective, and the script is smart enough to differentiate between the two similarly aged officers giving the actors enough to craft distinct characters.
But the main reason that “The Lincoln Lawyer” is so entertaining is that everyone in the film seems to have stepped out of the pages of a classic detective story. While not quite as good as something drafted by the master Elmore Leonard (the best adaptations of which have been “Get Shorty,” “Out of Sight,” and Tarantino’s “Jackie Brown”), “Lincoln” holds its own nicely with other norish tales. In fact, as the 1970s soundtrack kicks in and the credits roll, you might find yourself hoping for more Mick Haller stories. After all, there have to be, at least, 8000 stories on the naked court docket just waiting to be told.