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Matthew McConaughey surprises in ‘Lincoln Lawyer’

Troy Mathew | Friday, April 15, 2011

I am, admittedly, a Matthew McConaughey hater. His cheesy smile, annoying surfer drawl and propensity for asinine romantic comedies have always rubbed me the wrong way. This is part of the reason I had to be dragged to see “The Lincoln Lawyer.”

As the movie started, I tried to look on the bright side. At least the movie was lacking the equally-horrible Kate Hudson, who is McConaughey’s frequent partner-in-crime in crappy movies. I was soon shocked, however. Outrageously unfaithful to his rom-com past, McConaughey took the screen playing a street-savvy, cunning young lawyer — and playing it well.

Throughout this complex and suspenseful, albeit formulaic, legal thriller, McConaughey carries the film. He plays Mick Haller, a charismatic defense attorney who is not afraid to bend some rules to get his often-shady clients off the hook. However, his latest client, the wealthy Louis Roulet (Phillippe), provides an unexpected twist. Roulet is charged with the murder of a prostitute and claims the gold-digging prostitute framed him in order to get his money.

Roulet’s guilt soon becomes apparent, and his string of murders becomes heavily involved with Haller’s past cases and personal life. Haller then faces danger from his high-powered client and his family. Roulet’s mother, played by the terrifying-looking Frances Fisher, provides a menacing maternal presence. I think half the movie’s budget went toward her face-work and Botox.

In an attempt to not give away too much, I’ll just say that Haller essentially ends up defending himself for the murder of his friend. This complex web of court cases and past murders is cause for a riveting movie and provides many opportunities for plot twists. However, this multi-faceted plot also creates a lack of focus. McConaughey’s character is consulting with past clients, buying guns and pulling deals with biker gangs, all of which detracts from the central plot concerning the main plot case.

The physical appearance of the characters contributes to the storyline as well. Haller, as he slaves over legal documents and possible evidence, looks more haggard than anything I’ve ever seen. The bags under his eyes droop, as he slugs back another whiskey. This horrible visual effect adds greatly to the desperation of the legal case, and — at least for me — made me very anxious for Haller to get some sleep and sober up.

The film also raises thought-provoking ethical questions for defense attorneys. Haller is constantly looked down upon by other attorneys for freeing criminals, but he is more concerned with an innocent client. The thought of sending an innocent man to prison haunts Haller throughout the film. The ending is a just reflection of the plot, which includes entirely too much.

Although “The Lincoln Lawyer” is an overly-ambitious, formulaic legal-thriller, the performances are stellar and there isn’t a dull moment.