THE law may be an ass, but it has served Matthew McConaughey’s career well.
The handsome leading man originally planned to study for the Bar, but switched to a film degree at university before Hollywood lured him with its siren song.
In 1997, he won an MTV Movie Award for his breakthrough performance as an idealistic Southern defender in A Time To Kill, based on the John Grisham best-seller.
The same year, he played another crusading man of the law, Roger Sherman Baldwin, in Steven Spielberg’s historical drama, Amistad.
Now, McConaughey flexes his legal muscles, and almost keeps his shirt on for an entire film, in Brad Furman’s smart courtroom thriller, adapted from the novel by Michael Connelly.
The Lincoln Lawyer doesn’t deliver anything new or inventive, but John Romano’s script is tautly paced and peppered with sparkling one-liners.
He slowly cranks up the tension by following the characters through every step of the flawed legal process and while there are certainly twists, none stray too far from the film’s rigorous logic.
Mick Haller (McConaughey) conducts business from the back of a Lincoln Continental sedan driven by former client Earl (Laurence Mason).
The defence attorney is used to representing the dregs of society, but he hits the jackpot when bail bondsman Val Valenzuela (John Leguizamo) recommends him as counsel for playboy estate agent Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe), who has been accused of assault and attempted murder.
Louis vigorously maintains his innocence and Haller and private detective Frank Levin (William H Macy) sift through the flimsy evidence.
Haller prepares for a war of words with prosecutor Ted Minton (Josh Lucas) while Louis’s mother Mary (Frances Fisher) and family lawyer Cecil Dobbs (Bob Gunton) watch from the gallery.
Cracks appear in Roulet’s testimony, reminding Haller of an old case involving convicted murderer Jesus Martinez (Michael Pena).
Meanwhile, ex-wife and prosecuting attorney Maggie McPherson (Marisa Tomei) surveys the high-profile trial with interest.
The Lincoln Lawyer comfortably holds out attention for two hours as Haller realises he will need more than his usual wheeler-dealer tricks to ensure justice is served.
McConaughey has the right amount of oily charm in the lead role, catalysing smouldering screen chemistry with Tomei in a breathless sex scene.
Macy is a pleasantly-quirky sidekick and Phillippe is a snug fit for a man of privilege, used to getting his own way.
Plot machinations in the final act are hardly jaw-dropping, but Romano’s script doesn’t sacrifice realism or our enjoyment for a nonsensical last gasp revelation, and Furman’s film is all the better for it.