Mick Haller (Matthew McConaughey) is a well-known but little-respected defense attorney with a knack for getting his often shady clients out of sticky situations. He operates exclusively out of his Lincoln and revels in the negative spotlight this puts him in in the eyes of prosecutors and cops alike. When Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe), the heir to a vast real estate fortune, is accused of the attempted murder of a prostitute and asks for him specifically, Haller thinks he's hit the jackpot. Before long, however, his entire life is thrown into flux as he finds his new client to be much more cunning and sadistic than anyone he's represented in the past. Knowing that he can't let Roulet get free, Haller must find a way to incriminate him without throwing his own life away in the process.
I have spent the last 10 or 15 years slamming on Matthew McConaughey's acting ability at every opportunity. It's not that I hate the guy or think that he's the worst actor in the world; I just don't think he's very good and I do not understand his appeal. I've never found him to be very charismatic and other than a few rare exceptions ("Dazed and Confused", "A Time to Kill") I usually hate his films. In his defense, he's been pigeon-holed into a relatively bad position wherein he's not getting offers for leading roles in high quality films so he ends up starring in worthless romantic comedies ("Failure to Launch") or dreadful action flicks ("Sahara") over and over again. His genuinely funny turn in "Tropic Thunder" suggests that he will be able to sustain a solid career if he can transition to a supporting role kind of actor but until then, we're all going to be treated to films like "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past."
With that in mind, "The Lincoln Lawyer" was a very odd experience for me. I'll be honest: I expected to hate this film. Instead, I found it to be quite entertaining and at least half-way intelligent. Even more shocking, McConaughey was without question the best part of the film. He's essentially the same character that he is in every film (overly confident, abundantly shallow, and constantly walking the line between sleazy and charming) but for some reason (and believe me, I'm having a hard time writing this), it just works this time. Haller is an absurd caricature, of course, and only a slight exaggeration of who I expect McConaughey is in real life, but there's more depth to him than to the majority of McConaughey's characters which I didn't expect. I actually rooted for Haller and McConaughey kept me interested in the film's plot even when it bogged down into the typical shenanigans that plague most courtroom thrillers.
On the flip side, though, there's Ryan Phillippe who yet again displays that he only has one skill: overacting. If you can harness that power for good ("MacGruber" and to a lesser extent, "Crash"), you can make Phillippe seem like a good actor. Most of the time, however, the result is painful. Not to bash on McConaughey again but the truth is, if you're the second billed star in a film starring McConaughey, you should dominate him from an acting standpoint. Instead, there are scenes in this movie in which you can almost feel the pain in McConaughey's voice as he delivers his line knowing full well that Phillippe is about to brutally murder any momentum he just created. Honestly, dear readers, this is one of the premier performances of the year if, in fact, you are a voter for the Razzies. Just terrible.
The rest of "Lincoln" pulls together nicely (with the exception of the stop-start-stop conclusion that lasts 10 minutes too long and involves at least two more scene changes than necessary). It seems far too easy to compare this film to those based on the works of John Grisham but that's exactly what this is: a Grisham byproduct. You know and expect there to be twists and turns but the film manages to prevent them from becoming too obvious and the methods Haller uses to work against Roulet are, at times, pretty darn smart. "Lincoln" is flawed but enjoyable and managed to keep my attention through each and every Phillippe assault on my brain.