One of my favorite movies (mostly for the gratuitous violence and sardonic humor) is Mel Gibson’s Payback. In that 1999 film, director Brian Hegeland takes a rather unsympathetic character, an underworld thug, armed robber, and cold-blooded murderer named Porter, and transforms him into the story’s victim who blazes a blood-soaked trail of revenge and ends up getting the girl, even if she is a high-priced hooker.
What was most surprising to me was that, at the end of the film, Porter was the same amoral thug he was in the beginning with no noticeable character change. And even though character change is pretty much de rigueur by Hollywood story standards, its absence does not appear to have affected audience reaction to what went on to become a fairly successful movie.
Much the same appears to be the case with The Lincoln Lawyer and Matthew McConaughey’s character, Los Angeles defense attorney Mickey Haller. Haller, to be fair, is a manipulative, unethical, bottom-feeding lawyer who lies to his clients, bribes pubic officials, and uses his membership in the legal profession to influence judges and get the system to work for his convenience.
His office is a black Lincoln town car driven by a former client, Earl (Laurence Mason) who is working off his debt, and his current clients include a biker accused of drug dealing and a hooker with a cocaine problem, all of whom play key roles in making this story work.
When one of his many contacts, a bail bondsman by the name of Val Valenzuela (originally Fernando Valenzuela in the book, but there are some things that lawyers can’t fix, I guess) comes to him with information about a very wealthy client, Haller’s eyes light up and the games begin. And there are games being played at many levels in this tale. Louis Roulet (Ryan Philippe) is the wealthy son of an even wealthier real estate magnate (Frances Fisher) who has been accused of forcing his way into a woman’s home, beating her up, and threatening to kill her.
The alleged victim (Margarita Levieva) claims she was almost murdered by a psychopath. Roulet says he was set up by a greedy prostitute in order to sue him for his millions. The question for the viewers becomes, “Wherein lies the truth?”William H. Macy plays Haller’s private investigator, Frank Levin.
From the beginning, Levin suspects that something is just not right about the case and digs deep for the details, with tragic results for both him and Haller. Throughout the story, Haller must contend with his ex-wife, who happens to be a Deputy District Attorney (Marisa Tomei) and trying to balance time between his law practice and their daughter.
He also must deal with the specter of a previous client, who sits in San Quentin probably for the rest of his life and who still maintains his innocence. And an innocent client is the one person that Mickey Haller fears most.
Director Brad Furman tells a fast-paced and intriguing tale that keeps faith with the book with little exception. Careful viewers will be able to catch Furman’s subtle comment on Haller’s professional demeanor in a scene that takes place in the courthouse bathroom near the end.
I truly enjoyed this movie but, when all is said and done, everyone who views The Lincoln Lawyer will have to ask themselves whether or not any character change occurred with Mickey Haller. They will also have to decide whether or not, as the result of his actions as a sworn member of the legal profession, justice was indeed served.