The Lincoln Lawyer (review)
Attorney, Attorney, Quite Contrary
As I was on my way to check out The Lincoln Lawyer, I tweeted something to that effect, and added — lest anyone worry unduly on my behalf — that I had “prevaccinated against the pernicious McConaughey Skeeve.” I hadn’t, of course: there is no known inoculation that can keep one from suffering that itchy unease that inevitably flares up when one is in the oily presence of the unpleasantly smug and full-of-himself-with-little-apparent-reason Matthew McConaughey.
But it got me thinking: What would work to vaccinate oneself against this dread affliction? I pondered this for a while in the name of cinematic science and came to the conclusion that one might spend some time watching Josh Lucas onscreen. Unlike his compatriot, Lucas exudes intelligence, down-to-earth charm, and palpable talent, and while the two actors are of a very similar physical type, Lucas is a devastatingly attractive all-around package deal, while McConaughey, well, is not. McConaughey is a dude; Lucas is a man. They are, respectively, the Goofus and Gallant of Hollywood’s blond-blue-eyed-and-buff Southern-accented demigods.
I swear I had no idea Josh Lucas is actually costarring with McConaughey in Lawyer until Lucas’s name popped up in the opening credits. They’ve never actually appeared onscreen together before. It had been entirely possible, up till this moment, that they were the same person, in a Jekyll-and-Hyde sort of way. Would this be how the universe ends, with parallel-universe versions of the same actor causing all of infinity to collapse into some hellish singularity?
Turns out, it’s even better than that. McConaughey (Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, Fool’s Gold) is the sleazy overpaid scumball defense attorney — in that Sodom-and-Gomorrah on the Pacific, Los Angeles, no less — and Lucas (Life as We Know It, Management) is the noble, honorable, underpaid assistant district attorney. (Well, I presume his ADA is noble, etc: he’s actually not much of a real character here, just a convenient foil for McConaughey.) When they first meet onscreen, it’s like seeing Nice Spock coming in contact with Mirror Universe Spock. My head just about asploded. In a good way. Because, as all true movie fans know, watching a movie occurs on multiple levels, all of them fun, and this moment was like a fangirl dream come true. If they could have naked-wrestled — with Lucas, of course, beating the crap out of McConaughey — my life would have been complete.
And then there’s the other level, the one on which I lament that it’s not the more subtle and complex Lucas starring here as the sleazy overpaid scumball attorney who learns how to be a better person, because then The Lincoln Lawyer might have been so much more than just the pretty good, engagingly diverting crime story it is. For McConaughey had already won the not-naked wrestling match by grabbing the starring role and thereby relegating Lucas to a thankless supporting part. Cartoonish McConaughey starring as the cartoonish sleazy overpaid scumball lawyer… well, that’s what we expect from Hollywood, isn’t it? How tediously predictable.
All that said — and I apologize with all sincerity to McConaughey for burying the lede — Lawyer isn’t the cartoon its star would appear to promise, and that’s mostly down to McConaughey bypassing his usual Method and not gadding about onscreen like he’s just rolled out of a really good three-day bong-and-beer party. Sure, it all feels like a Very Special Episode of a cable drama, but I didn’t hate McConaughey here, and I actually cannot recall a single moment in which I felt itchy watching him. He’s trying, bless his heart, he really is, to be the not-cartoonish, believably conflicted grownup — it almost makes me feel bad to say that he’s pretty much perfectly cast as the sleazy lawyer.
Bonus points to the flick: While it appears to be attempting to invoke Abraham Lincoln with its title, which is preposterous, it also does not play up the gimmick that provides the title, which is that its nominal hero conducts business, for reasons left entirely unexplained, out of the back of an old Lincoln automobile.
The plot is almost incidental, and revolves around Ryan Phillippe’s (MacGruber, Stop-Loss) rich idiot being accused of sexually assaulting a prostitute, and whether McConaughey’s slick shyster is smart enough to figure out who is being set up for what. It’s based on a novel by Michael Connelly [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon U.K.], who clearly wishes he were John Grisham, and there is some nice double-crossing and ferreting out of clues and juicy supporting bits from actors who also better deserve to be starring, such as William H. Macy (Marmaduke, Shorts) and John Leguizamo (Vanishing on 7th Street, Repo Men), but whaddaya gonna do? Hollywood thinks we don’t want to see these kinds of movies unless the likes of Matthew McConaughey are headlining, which is too bad, and their loss. This is a world in which women are all but absent, except as victims — like Margarita Levieva’s (Adventureland) hooker — or saints — like Marisa Tomei (Cyrus, War, Inc.) as McConaughey’s ex (she’s a lawyer, too, but she doesn’t get to do law here; she gets to do McConaughey, because he’s just that irresistible even after they’ve broken up). Still, there are some good twists that are not, thankfully, as tediously predictable as the casting. Even just that fact alone — that the story is almost impossible to summarize — is a nice sign: this is a movie intended for adults with an attention span, which is a rarity in Hollywood at the moment.
Mostly, though, for me, it was all about the meta: Next time I see McConaughey and Lucas onscreen together, there had better be a knife fight, and McConaughey had better be sporting an evil little Mirror Universe goatee.