Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Lincoln Lawyer

MPAA (R) CNS/USCCB (R) Roger Ebert (3 stars) Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 stars)

IMDb Listing -
CNS/USCCB Review -
Roger Ebert’s Review -

"Man, I’m a big fan of your work,
playing one side off against the other,
in bed with everybody..."
       – from The Big Lebowski

The Lincoln Lawyer (directed by Brad Furman, screenplay by John Romano based on the novel by Michael Connelly) continues in a long line of hard-boiled Hollywood crime dramas extending back to the days of the character Sam Spade, black and white film noirs and author Mickey Spillane. More recently, John Grisham updated this genre of tales by making a lawyer (rather than a private investigator) the central character of the story.

Still the elements of this kind of story remain the same: A hardened protagonist (usually male), usually a private eye or more recently a lawyer with a practice in a large "fallen city," is presented with a case that initially sounds like so many others that (usually) he has worked-on before. As the case proceeds, however, it gets even more depraved than (usually) he ever imagined. The "fallen city" is even more "fallen" than previously thought. The depravity of the case both reinforces the protagonist’s hard-boiled world view and redeems the protagonist by forcing (usually) him to rectify the situation and bring justice.

Interestingly, the audience follows along usually identifying with the protagonist thoughout the whole trajectory of the story. Thus the world-view presented is, in fact, largely that of the audience itself. It sees the world as fundamentally corrupt/fallen ("fallenness" being as Biblical a theme (1) (2) (3) as one can get). Yet, the audience is shocked to see just how corrupt/fallen it has become and it cheers the protagonist as (usually) he seeks to rectify this new Evil.

Certainly other countries have produced their share of crime dramas. However, this basic script has been standard Hollywood fare since the days of Humphrey Bogart (1930s-40s). So it could be said that this storyline has a definite place in the American psyche to the extent that so long as one begins with a decent script and the acting, direction and camera-work is at least average, one’s guaranteed a "b movie" that will make money here.

I mention all this because Americans are often thought of by foreigners as being somehow naive about "how the world works." These movies testify to the opposite, that Americans are NOT naive, that there is a long home-grown American tradition of reflecting on Evil and that by that tradition Americans have come to understand that Evil does not exist just "outside" but also "within" – that mayors, D.A.s, police officers, even the "little old lady across the street" could "have an an angle." It is a tradition in which "Party Lines" are dismissed out of hand as probably being lies (Would Sam Spade believe _any_ "party line?") Yet despite his cynicism, the protagonist in these films is shaken out of his complacency by an Evil that does go beyond the pale, but _not_ before following that Evil all the way to its source, often a good distance from where it first presented itself, often implicating people who initially posed as the "good guys."  It’s really a subversive story-line, but it’s one that worked in Hollywood for decades.

So then, how does The Lincoln Lawyer "stack up" this tradition hard-boiled crime dramas? Mick Haller (played by Matthew McConaughey) plays a slick Los Angeles defense attorney who makes a living defending scumbags.  He drives around, chauffered, in a big black Lincoln Continental (an impressive "bad-a car" if there ever was one), keeping tabs on his clients, picking up new ones and collecting his fees.  Indeed, like archetypical scumbag defense lawyer Bill Flynn from the musical Chicago (Flynn played perfectly in _that_ movie by Richard Gere), Mick’s only criterion in taking up a case is whether or not the client can pay. Indeed, we’re told early in this story that Mick’s only fear is of one day getting a client who really is innocent...

Many in the police hate him, of course, for defending scumbags who deserve to be in jail. But Mick does not care. He tells one officer that he sees his job as making sure that the police _do their jobs_ and don’t over-reach.

Early in the movie, we are also introduced to Mick’s ex-wife, Maggie MacPhearson (played by Marisa Tomei) who works for Los Angeles District Attorney’s office and who had divorced Mick because was just too strange for her to be working to put scumbags in jail while her husband was working to keep them out. The two have a young daughter that they both love and seek to protect from the dangers/consequences of their work. Theirs is an interesting modern situation and calls to mind that many people today work in professions that if they were honest about it are not particularly conducive to marriage and family...

A new case comes up involving a Louis Roulet (played by Ryan Phillipe) a rich 20-something who helps his mother in the upscale real estate business of Beverley Hills and Malibu. Louis is accused of viciously beating-up a young woman he met in an trendy Los Angeles club. He claims to have been set-up by a gold-digger seeking to sue him later for his money. He’s not exactly Mick’s typical client, but Louis personally asked for him and the family is more than willing to pay. Mick has his private investigator, Frank Levin (played by William H. Macy), check into the story...

Much happens. As in the case of other reviews I’ve written and posted on my blog, I’ll leave it the readers to check out the movie and make their own judgement as to whether the movie was satisfactory (or even if it made sense).

I will say that I found the movie _well crafted_ and _well acted_.  And yes, inanimate, devoid of any "special powers" as it was, _the car_ was a _worthy_ "supporting character."   And as far as I could discern, the movie’s various twists and turns "added up" nicely by the end. So I found this story to be a very good "crime drama" of the vein I described above.

Was The Lincoln Lawyer a great film? Probably not, but movies like this don’t aspire to greatness. Did it hold its own? Certainly.  Does it tell a great, well crafted, story?  Ditto.

Any concerns about viewership? I probably wouldn’t see much value in very, very young kids seeing the movie. But regarding others, I do believe that this movie is "as American as (a crusty :-) apple pie."

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