The Lincoln Lawyer (2011)


The Lincoln Lawyer, based on the novel by Michael Connelly, is not a great movie but a good one: it works because it is an interesting, entertaining, latter-day update of the P.I./Noir tradition. It’s, in short, on solid ground.

The dark-suited knight errant is not a detective but a lawyer, Mickey Haller (Matthew McConaughey), an engaging heroic anti-hero in rags-and-riches LA who has the old-fashioned detective’s sleuthing cognition, generally defends lowlifes; and, like Quixote with his nag, Rocinante, and Marlowe with his 1941 Chevy coupe and Rockford with his 1974 Pontiac Firebird, has a steed, a big, black, contemporary Lincoln Town Car driven by a chauffeur, Earl, who brings in the old sidekick motif (Sancho, Pancho, Tonto, Kato et al.). The Lincoln, like any knight’s or Samurai warrior’s horse, is Mickey’s “office.” There is a P. I.  here, long-haired Frank Levin (William H. Macy), who works for Mickey and reminds just a little of Doc Sportello in Pynchon’s Inherited Vice, though Levin dresses a little better than Doc and isn’t weary and cynical. But P. I.  Frank doesn’t appear too often and, an enthusiastic hippie of sorts, is vulnerable.

If you watch The Lincoln Lawyer, keep in mind from the beginning The Big Sleep and The Long Fall. Throw in a dash of the great movie, Chinatown.

No more hints.

I will say that Connelly does excellently achieve the grand principle in such stories of (a) probably fooling you some yet (b) creating an outcome that makes perfect sense given old reliable base motivations characterizing that fearsome creature, Homo sapiens. As in: Damn, of course that makes sense!

Try to get past Marissa Tomei’s not-very-good performance as Mickey’s ex-wife, Margaret McPherson. Poor Connelly has to try to make Mickey sensitive and caring yet the classic sleuthing loner: and gosh, in fairness to Marissa, Guinivere has seldom been well represented by guy mystery writers; even Cervantes, with his great and very deep ironic takes, the comic blended with the tragic, on the tradition of sallying forth, is perhaps a tad the misogynist, wouldn’t you say? But Dorothy Sayers and Agatha C. don’t care, so there!

You get to see Bryan Cranston (Walt White in Breaking Bad) as Detective Lankford and the superb Frances Fisher (you’ve probably frequently seen her in supporting roles but not remembered her name) as Mary Windsor (an inspired choice of name by Connelley). Ryan Phillippe as Louis Roulet shows skilled acting.

The Lincoln Lawyer is worth seeing.