When I watched the trailer for this movie back in November I was baffled at how an unknown director, Brad Furman, had such a knockout cast at his disposal. I was able to read almost the entire book before the film came out in theaters, and looking back I can’t honestly say he deserved the chance to prove himself. I never review movie adaptations on how authentic they are to their source material, but if the book shows better ways of handling characters and events then I certainly hold a film accountable for ideas if it can’t excuse them with the medium’s limitations.
Execution complaints aside, that still leaves a lot of style choices that I had issues with, which caused the tone of the movie to sloppily waffle greatly from start to finish. Keep reading for my full review, as well as a mini review from Sean, who found the film more successful and enjoyable than I did.
Written by Michael Connelly, The Lincoln Lawyer had two aspects that I was curious how it would handle. The first was that it had a few small side cases that were completely unrelated to the main plotline. Unless it ambitiously tried to cover them in a Catch Me If You Can type of montage, I think it was smart to axe them from the film due to the big risk for limited reward, although after watching the movie I think it would have been a much better choice for the film’s opening than what was settled on. Instead we get a weird song – the first of many odd soundtrack choices – that doesn’t fit the movie quite right, and we don’t get a feel for the main character as he wanders around in his Lincoln for the first few minutes. From here, much of the first half of the movie wasn’t fully explained to the audience, which successfully withholding at some moments and unnecessarily confusing to those who didn’t read the book at other points.
The second aspect I was eager to witness was if the movie would include Mickey Haller’s (McConaughey) odd, yet strangely fitting affinity of rap music. I think that might even be what led to the odd soundtrack selection, but I’m not going to give points for effort since they completely missed the point on all but two songs – one being the track that plays during the credits. One part in the novel has a drunken Haller interrupt his ex-wife by singing part of his favorite Tupac song to explain his career. Elsewhere in the book it’s revealed that he likes rap because it tells him a lot about some of his repeat clients in ways they couldn’t word as succinctly. It’s both research, and research he respects and mildly enjoys. It’s hard to tell if Matthew McConaughey is finally starting to show his age, or if his portrayal of a lawyer who drinks heavily was that effective, but I think the more important point is that not only did the book not have him drunk that often, but more of a contrast was needed. He doesn’t drink that much in the book, but he drinks more in one night than all of the movie portrayed, which is much more affective. In other words, Haller in the book has a different array of emotions in the novel, and I prefer that version of Haller to the one in the film. It’s easier to be sympathetic to a lawyer who drinks because of one event than a lawyer who just drinks all the time.
So far we have two opinions that are mostly debatable, but the other major complaint I have is one that I think most will agree on: the lack of acting. Many of the scenes felt like blatant checklists, which made them feel like the “uncanny valley” that’s usually only relevant with CGI film discussions. Not only did it sometimes feel like Tomei was reading from a script in an audition for some other movie, but the one elevator scene felt like it was done by a complete amateur director with a mediocre camera. It honestly felt like a clip from some YouTube video. You have the hot commodity McConaughey not getting enough chances to deliver lines that will make housewives cream themselves because the camera is at times jumping around more than the fast paced dialogue, and you’ve got Academy award winning Marisa Tomei robbed of being the sexy but smart role she’s very capable of. Add Crash’s Ryan Phillippe, John Leguizamo, and to a lesser degree, William H. Macy and Katherine Moennig, and you’ve got a cast that’s almost perfectly picked, yet only Phillippe is given the chance to shine to his full potential.
What I think proves my point the most is that Michael Peña is given a very minor role, yet expresses far better acting than all the others combined. It was so impressive by comparison that it had me wishing they completely ditched the book if they weren’t going to execute what it did well, and instead make the whole movie about Peña, the inmate.
Now that I’ve hit every negative issue I found in the movie, let’s talk about the good things. First and foremost, the story is mostly borrowed from the book, and it’s phenomenal. It’s everything a page turner should be, which is why I’m not lowering its review score too much. I’d rather not obsess over some of the very well balanced complex plot aspects so I don’t have spoilers in this review, but I can only urge you to rent this on DVD instead of attending a theater. It also improved on a few scenes from the original by merging some of his monotonous work scenes with his daughter’s visitation days to seem more endearing, considering we never see him spend time with her in the book. Also, despite the musical choices being absurd, the director’s night club interpretations were superb. I also give him credit for having a St. Patrick’s Day scene in the novel, releasing in theaters right around St Patty’s Day, yet not exploiting that at all and instead axing the holiday from the film. Furthermore, it also axed some the eye-rolling crime scene details, as well as the under developed scene leading up to it. However, I still wish it had developed the two cops a bit more.
Sean Walsh: The Lincoln Lawyer has everything I love about movies. It’s got a killer cast (Matthew McConaughey, Marisa Tomei, William H. Macy, and Ryan Phillippe), a great sense of humor in McConaughey’s Mickey Haller, clever writing kept me glued to my seat the entire time, and the entire cast gelled together better than any I’ve seen in recent history. I’ve seen a good amount of 2011’s films, both good and bad, and The Lincoln Lawyer sits up at the top, right next to Rango. 87 – Excellent