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Feature


Highly egotistical and flashy criminal defense attorney Mickey Haller (Matthew McConaughey) operates a moderately successful, moderately ethical practice around the Los Angeles area. He works directly out of a Lincoln Town Car driven by a former client working off his legal fees (hence the film’s title, which also refers to a statue of the 16th President). Haller spends most of his time defending garden-variety criminals, which leaves him unpopular with local law enforcement, and his ex-wife, criminal prosecutor Maggie McPherson (Marisa Tomei), who he has a child with (the two still clearly have feelings for each other). One day Haller lands a case backed by a gigantic paycheck. Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe), a spoiled Beverly Hills playboy and son of real estate mogul Mary Windsor (Frances Fisher), is accused of brutally beating a prostitute. Predictably, the seemingly straightforward case of blackmail develops into a deadly game of survival.

Lincoln Lawyer
The courtroom thriller reached a point of utter saturation in the 1990s. In television L.A. Law hit its highest ratings, Law and Order began its two decade (and counting) reign, and Ally McBeal turned from a ratings juggernaut into a full blown cultural phenomenon. In books John Grisham practically owned the New York Times bestsellers list, and practically created a new standard for so-called ‘airport literature’. Grisham’s work, along with similar work from other authors in the field led to a glut of popular films like The Firm, Civil Action and A Few Good Men. Lincoln Lawyer director Brad Furman seems to have anticipated my assumption that his film might conjure unfortunate comparisons to other ‘90s throwbacks, and does almost everything he can visually to conjure memories of the ‘70s. More accurately he recalls that very ’00 style of ‘70s memories. This slick verite style works to keep the ‘90s comparisons to a minimum, but still overwhelm with plenty of ‘00s comparisons. The crash-zooms, and constantly buzzing camera work are only a step removed from full-on Paul Greengrass hero worship (the digital photography keeps things from being comparably grainy). Sadly, most of Furman’s image based techniques are for naught because his casting and musical choices are dripping with dated memories.

Probably the most prominent of these ‘90s-recalling elements is Matthew McConaughey himself, who some may remember was also in A Time to Kill, one of the more popular Grisham movies. Moreover it was his breakthrough mainstream role. His casting here cannot be a mistake in this regard. In fact, if you used your imagination you could even pretend Lincoln Lawyer was a sort of sequel to Grisham’s heavy-handed morality tale. You just have to assume that Jake Brigance walked away from his A Time to Kill experience a jaded shell, then moved to LA and changed his name to Mickey Haller. It’s not a particularly interesting story, because he learns basically the same lesson in the end, but it works. Lincoln Lawyer reminds me even more of Gregory Hoblit’s Primal Fear, a film I’d mark as possibly the best courtroom thrillers of the 1990s. The specifics of the similarities would constitute spoilers, but I can point to similarities in the lead character, who comes across as a slightly lower-class, slightly younger version of Richard Gere’s Primal Fear character. The two characters start in a similar place, and roll over a similar arc, including their relationships with their clients and their estranged lovers.

Lincoln Lawyer
What I enjoy about Lincoln Lawyer, as opposed to so many other courtroom thrillers is that it takes some effort to act as a character study of Haller, who is a character in an ongoing series of Michael Connelly novels. It’s possible the filmmakers are attempting to set up a Jason Bourne/Jack Ryan franchise. The Firm and Primal Fear certainly share this element (they also are movies about the lawyers more than movies about the lawyer’s cases), but don’t offer a lot of insight into the lead lawyer’s other jobs. Here we aren’t given a full force look into Mickey’s B-story cases, but we’re aware of them, and they even become part of the mystery hidden in the A-story. On the negative side of this coin is a little too much clichéd romantic life hooey. When the first big reveal is unveiled (if you’ve seen the trailer you won’t be shocked at all) Mickey’s dopey, drunken, bleary-eyed reaction threatens to spoil the novelty. McConaughey is a good actor, and this is one of his better recent performances in recent memory, but the character is full of banal, predictable reactions. I was rooting for this movie, and its occasional Dirty Harry influences, but the plot and characters wind out of energy by the end of the second act, leaving a clean, well stated, yet ultimately uneventful climax, filled with more false endings than Return of the King (and unlike Peter Jackson’s film, Lincoln Lawyer doesn’t really make any of these additional endings worth our emotional investment).

Lincoln Lawyer

Video


Stock in Red One cameras must be skyrocketing these days, if the sheer volume of movies I’ve seen that were filmed using the format over the last month. The good new is that Red seems to produce results, and The Lincoln Lawyer looks positively fantastic in 1080p HD. Besides the extremely lifelike clarity, and extremely sharp details (even pretty boy McConaughey’s complexion appears pockmarked), the digital format offers director Brad Furman and cinematographer Lukas Ettlin the chance to fiddle with the colour-timing here to their heart’s content. The whole film is warmly tinted to evoke the warm temperatures of Los Angeles, and highlight the wooden interiors of the court. Cooler hues are blown out to near whiteness, even the blues of the stereotypically neon lit bars (the only sequences not warmly tinted are flashbacks, which are almost monochromatically blue). These clean hues are supported by deep, solid blacks, which up the texture value, which is kind of needed figuring the lack of film grain. There aren’t many standout hues, but occasionally a red or green elements pop nicely against the dry backgrounds without any bleeding or compression jaggies. I noticed no sizable moments of digital grain, or even minor artefacts on this transfer outside of some of the outdoor night sequences.

Audio


The courtroom thriller and murder mystery genres aren’t often known for their aggressive 5.1 sound mixes, and this DTS-HD Master Audio mostly follows suit (no pun intended). For the most part this is a movie about words, and words spoken in relatively quiet places like courtrooms and law offices. There are some street and driving sequences with well maintained and immersive enough, but mostly it’s only important that the dialogue is consistent and clear, and occasionally music can intrude without overwhelming. The more expressive sound design is mostly featured during stylized transitions (usually a marked by a musical sting, or backwards sound effect), and are especially aggressive during the many flashback sequences, where they create a sort of dream logic sound wrapped in reverb and echoes. These sequences also feature some big, loud narrative dialogue. Other occasionally impressive aural elements are based around the occasional big beat hip-hop and pop music (I’d like to note that despite the R rating some of the f-bombs have been edited out of the music).

Lincoln Lawyer

Extras


Special features begin with ‘Making the Case: Creating The Lincoln Lawyer’ (13:40, HD) is an efficient EPK type featurette featuring author Michael Connelly, producer Tom Rosenberg, screenwriter John Romano, actors McConaughey, Josh Lucas, Ryan Phillippe, Michael Penal, William H. Macy, John Leguizamo, and director Brad Furman. Discussion points include Connelly’s inspiration, development, adaptation, casting, finding a director, preparing for the role, and the filming process. Probably the most interesting nugget is the knowledge that Lucas actually took the role because he thought of himself as a kind of McConaughey doppelganger. ‘Michael Connelly: At Home on the Road’ (10:10, HD) follows the writer’s career through his own words as he tours the Los Angeles area in his car, and points out some of the locations found in the story. Connelly also discusses his research process and inspiration. The featurettes wrap-up with ‘One on One with McConaughey and Connelly’ (5:20, HD), which, as indicated by its title, is an interview segment between the writer and actor. The extras are completed with four deleted scenes (4:00, HD), and trailers for other Lionsgate releases.

Lincoln Lawyer

Overall


I had very little interest in liking The Lincoln Lawyer having never read Michael Connelly’s books, and having never really developed a taste for modern courtroom thrillers. That said, I enjoyed the film despite its occasionally dips into cliché, and lack of complete follow through. The trailers gave away too much for the mystery to really work, but those going in completely blind, and with an affinity for similar films should be happy. This Blu-ray release features an incredibly sharp and clean HD transfer, taken from an incredibly sharp and clean HD source. Extras are brief, but relatively informative, and the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack gets the job done without too much flash.

Side note: did you ever notice that ‘90s courtroom thrillers were often sold on a single line – ‘You can’t handle the truth!’ or ‘Yes, they deserved to die and I hope they burn in hell!’ – and that that single line would then be quoted out of context as if they marked a heroic moment in those films? Weird.

*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray’s image quality.


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