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Under Review: The Lincoln Lawyer

April 9th, 2011 | 2 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

I've got something of a soft spot for crime dramas and legal thrillers.  I don't read the books, as I prefer to spend my reading downtime doing other things.  But I don't mind taking a few hours on a weekend to try to think my way through a crime or around a court case.

The Lincoln Lawyer isn't the best of the genre--but it's certainly not the worst, either.  I had forgotten that Matthew McConaughey was an actor, having reduced his performances to "eye candy in only the worst possible chick flicks" or "leads in sports films that are trying too hard," but he manages to pull off a convincing performance as the snarky, overconfident defender of the criminal class.   McConaughey isn't going to win an Oscar for it--but he was good enough to persuade me to give him another shot in the right sort of film.

The plot will strike many people as a bit too conveniently contrived, but almost every courtroom drama is.  Caught between two clients and afflicted by a bout of conscience,  McConaughey is forced with the task of finding a way to bring about justice without breaking the law.  The plot's strength is that there are no extraneous characters or incidents.  However, the final movement meanders a little as a result, as I was never quite sure when the climax occurred.

What's more, the film manages to somehow feel like Los Angeles--which is, I think, partly why I found myself enjoying it so much.  It has none of the iconic buildings or landmarks that are so often associated with the city, and though the central family is extraordinarily wealthy, the film lacks the sort of glitz and glamour that can often be associated with L.A.  Instead, as Ella Taylor put it:

Furman paints an unaffected, downright loving portrait of the city without recourse to cutaways of palm trees, Muscle Beach or the palaces of Mulholland Drive. The seaminess, backed by a low-key soundtrack, never seems overdone; as shot by cinematographer Lukas Ettlin, downtown Los Angeles is just what it is — a vitally unplanned muddle of skyscrapers, ugly-functional courtrooms, stuffy bars and sleek corporate suites.

Taylor's description of the city could apply to the film itself, which captures a gritty feeling without being reduced to crudities or tricks.

The Lincoln Lawyer is a solid film.  It won't be the most serious or substantial viewing you'll have this year, but it will leave you reasonably entertained and attempting to work out the way the storyline hangs together.


Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is an Associate Professor of Ethics and Theology in Baylor University's Honors College. He has a D.Phil. in Christian Ethics from Oxford University, and is a Perpetual Member of Biola University's Torrey Honors College. In 2005, he founded Mere Orthodoxy.