20 March 2011

"Why Do All You F*****g W*****s Play Golf?"

It has been a while since I've seen a solid legal thriller/courtroom drama at the cinema (OK, technically, The Social Network is a courtroom drama but I'm not counting it here). To some extent, even though this is one of my favourite genres, it isn't too big a deal because a) I get a 42-minute dose of courtroom drama most weeks in The Good Wife and b) there were tons of them made in the '80s and '90s that I have yet to watch.

I hadn't heard anything about The Lincoln Lawyer until I happened to step into an Oxford bookshop last weekend to kill time and spotted the movie edition of the book of the same name by Michael Connelly. I was a little put off by the fact that the film would star Matthew McConaughey but I thought it sounded reasonable. Then a four-star review in the Grauniad praised it as, "a terrific LA noir thriller with a career-best performance from Matthew McConaughey." Maybe only the first part of that summary swayed me, given that McConaughey's presence in a film isn't exactly synonymous with good quality by any means. But A Time To Kill was the first movie adaptation of a John Grisham novel that I ever saw (somewhat inappropriately, on the school bus, aged 13) so I caved. Besides, after yesterday's forays into Loach's Liverpool, I felt I owed a nice, solid legal thriller.

And it was. Solid, that is. McConaughey plays Mick Haller, a defence attorney who operates from the back of his chauffeur-driven Lincoln Town Car (unfortunately, the car gets about as much screen time as William H. Macy, who plays Haller's long-suffering investigator). He has defended plenty of criminals who ended up walking free and he may also have allowed innocent clients to serve jail time to avoid a death penalty. Enter Louis Roulet (played by a smoking Ryan Phillippe), who could easily be an older version of Sebastian Valmont, Phillippe's character in Cruel Intentions. Roulet is accused of assaulting a nearly killing a hooker in her apartment. He swears he is innocent and so does his mother, who is keen to avoid any negative publicity affecting their family.

Along the way, there are plenty of twists and turns--some of them fairly obvious, others less so--and perhaps even more conflicts of interest. Haller's ex-wife Maggie (Marisa Tomei) works for the DA, for one thing and, for another, Haller's appointment as Roulet's lawyer may not be as coincidental as it initially seemed. I liked The Lincoln Lawyer although it did get pretty silly in places. The audience was roaring with laughter at some of the (unintentionally funny) lines as well as the more intentional ones ("you've got more balls than a Chinese ping pong tournament"). Meanwhile, when Haller finds his client playing golf, I was reminded of a line from Route Irish, which I found inexplicably hilarious. "Why do all you f*cking w*nkers play golf?" demands Fergus on finding the second ne'er-do-well in a row on a golf course.

Macy and Tomei were as good as ever, though, and Phillippe was suitably hot and angry. As for McConaughey, he was charming enough in his cocky, Southern "idn't it?" kind of way. And he could have walked right out of a John Grisham novel (from a Michael Connelly novel too, I'm sure, but I haven't read any)--possibly The King of Torts. But although Alicia Florrick might not have approved of Haller's means, I think she would have been satisfied with his ends.

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