'The Lincoln Lawyer' makes it clear from the start that we're miles -- or at least zip codes -- away from most buttoned-up courtroom dramas. Defense attorney Mick Haller (Matthew McConaughey) uses the backseat of his old Lincoln as a makeshift office as his driver Earl (Laurence Mason) takes him back and forth across town to appointments. Some of Mick's meetings are conducted curbside, such as when a gang of bikers forces his car aside for a quick chat about a friend in the clink. Smooth as butter, Mick doubles his price and weighs the envelope of cash in his hand, thanks the leader of the pack and puts the envelope in his suit jacket.
"Aren't you going to count it?" asks the biker.
"I just did," says Mick with that famous McConaughey grin, and the deal is done. The town car moves smoothly back into traffic, and the bikers disperse.
The streets of Los Angeles are Mick's office and his element, yet despite Mick's tendency to play fast and loose with the law, he has his own code of ethics. While he's definitely cool with paying off bailiffs or similar shady practices, he feels just as strong about representing people that are generally thought of expendable by society. Mick is tormented by the possibility that his former client Jesus Martinez (Michael Peña) is on death row for a crime he might not have committed, but he isn't too concerned about the murderer that he got off on technicalities and police error. He did his job; it's the police and the DA that screwed that one up. Mick's also a doting father and a caring ex-husband who has a rather complicated relationship with his ex-wife Maggie, a prosecutor played by Marisa Tomei.
When Mick is approached by Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe) to represent him in court against charges of attempted murder and rape, it seems like a quick and easy gig, and all the more welcome because Roulet and his family are very rich. The more Mick and private investigator Frank Levin (William H. Macy) learn about Roulet, the more they suspect that Roulet isn't as innocent as he claims to be. At the same time, Mick's concerns about Martinez come to a head.
Director Brad Furman sometimes leans too heavily on jump cuts and changes in grain and tone to emphasize a shift in mood or ramp up the tension. McConaughey's performance is occasionally undermined by the frenetic camera work, but he pulls it off with relish nevertheless, as if he's waited a long time to get a role meaty enough to sink his strong, white teeth into. Marisa Tomei doesn't get a lot of screen time, but their relationship gives an added dimension to the story that's much needed. Phillippe is perhaps the weakest link; he isn't convincing as an innocent man wrongly accused or as a baby-faced criminal with a thing for knives.
'The Lincoln Lawyer' tries really hard to be different and cool, from its hip hop-heavy soundtrack to its decidedly un-Hollywood locations, and it definitely succeeds at standing out. The script, which is based on the novel by Michael Connelly, manages to be both fairly convoluted and incredibly simple in hindsight, and suffers from several false endings. However, despite its weaknesses, 'The Lincoln Lawyer' is an enjoyable thriller buoyed by the unrelenting charisma of McConaughey.