Confession: I’m addicted to the crime fiction of Michael Connelly, with a bullet next to the page-turners featuring attorney Mickey Haller, defender of desperate scumbags and the occasional lost cause. So why was I hesitant about seeing the movie version of The Lincoln Lawyer, the first of the four Haller novels Connelly has written so far? (The Fifth Witness will be published in April, and it’s a corker.) Because Hollywood is infamous for screwing up sure things. Look what they did to James Patterson’s Alex Cross mysteries.
OK. Pause. Deep breath. The Lincoln Lawyer onscreen is a slam-bang twister of a legal thriller, full of whiplash energy, tasty acting and — huge credit to director Brad Furman (The Take) and cinematographer Lukas Ettlin — a decadent, scuzzy sense of Los Angeles as a perfect hell for the beautiful and the damned.
Best of all, a dynamite Matthew McConaughey gives his best performance in years as Mick, wearing the character like a second skin. To save money on an office, Mick works out of the back seat of his Lincoln Continental, chauffeured Miss Daisy-style by Earl (Laurence Mason), in lieu of legal fees. Mick has an ex-wife, Maggie (a memorably fierce Marisa Tomei), who works for the DA (Josh Lucas); an eight-year-old daughter he barely sees; and something he tries to hide: a working conscience.
Guilt eats at Mick over a former client (Michael Peña) doing time for a crime that might have involved Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe), the realtor stud he is currently defending for attempted rape and murder. Phillippe excels at suggesting the sins that pretty can conceal. There are also juicy turns from the great William H. Macy as Mick’s investigator, John Leguizamo as a hustling bail bondsman and Bryan Cranston as a detective who enjoys riding Mick. The Lincoln Lawyer keeps springing surprises. Maybe too many. Screenwriter John Romano (TV’s Monk) has the unenviable task of packing Connelly’s dense novel into a two-hour movie. Potholes? Yes. Dead ends? No. This is rock-solid entertainment. McConaughey, a cunning mesmerizer in the courtroom, steers this Lincoln into what could be a hell-raising franchise. More, please. Soon.