I saw a press screening of a movie about the Abraham Lincoln assassination and the trial involving the people that conspired in that. That night, I saw this – The Lincoln Lawyer – and thought the title could’ve worked for either film. I laughed when I looked at the production notes and saw it was a courtroom drama starring Matthew McConaughey, who I hadn’t seen in a courtroom since A Time to Kill with Sandra Bullock in the mid-90s (a movie I thought was so-so)
Marisa Tomei, who won an Oscar for her courtroom appearances in My Cousin Vinny, also got an Oscar nomination for another movie she had some courtroom scenes in – In the Bedroom (a great film).
William H. Macy is decent in his role as a long-haired, mysterious investigator that’s McConaughey’s right hand man. He’s one of the best actors around and luckily for him, the weak spots in the script don’t usually center around his scenes.
The rest of the cast includes Josh Lucas, and Ryan Phillippee as the client from hell.
I love a good movie that takes place in a court, but I hate flaws in them. Even classics like Paul Newman’s The Verdict – which I liked, has a scene that bothers me so much, I think about it 25 years later!
Part of the problem lies in the fact that we’ve seen all this before, and often done better. When Phillippee starts manipulating McConaughey we think of Edward Norton in Primal Fear (his first movie and Oscar nomination).
Another part of the problem is that they have characters talking to each other the way people just don’t speak. It’s like a screenwriter came up with cheesy one-liners that they’re spewing out at each other. A few of the times they worked, but when you’re watching verbal jousting that gets out of hand, you shake your head wondering why it wasn’t done better.
An example would be a negotiation McConaughey has with a bunch of bikers. You see, he’s the “Lincoln lawyer” because he conducts business out of his Lincoln towncar. Apparently, instead of having a home office, bikers just pull up to his window on the freeway and signal for him to pull over (I’m guessing he’s got a ton of business cards all over the side of the road).
He then talks about all these expenses for one of their gang that he’s representing. He admits to his limo driver how he bilked them all so badly (and we’re supposed to feel for this character later? Oh right…because he finds out somebody really isn’t guilty and gets a conscious).
Another scene has a DA giving McConaughey a hard time as they walk past security and metal detectors. It’s the usual hyperbole clichés you’ve heard a million times about defense attorneys. “How can you represent those scumbags? You let a murderer get away with it and walk the streets to murder again.”
This conversation never seems to end, even as they go in the crowded elevator. McConaughey finally talks about the client he had that decapitated his wife and how the DA “tried to pin two other murders he didn’t commit on him, and he got his client off.” This DA responds, “F*** you, for getting him back out on the street!” McConaughey gets in his face and says “F*** the DA for getting greedy.”
A powerful comeback, sure…but am I really going to believe that the prosecution gets in legal and moral debates that we all had in high school? Am I also supposed to believe that a DA would try to throw another couple of murders at a client when they had weak evidence? Usually they’re happy with a slam dunk murder case that will put the person away for 25 years, and if they suspect them of other murders, they can gather evidence with no real rush. If the case comes together and they can pin it on them while he’s behind bars, all the better. They certainly won’t risk an easy case by throwing other charges at a defendant.
Another scene involves an antique gun taken from a characters house and used in a crime. When that character is talking casually to police about a recent crime and they mention an antique gun being used – I immediately thought – tell the cop right now that you have an antique gun like that. Obviously, they’re going to find this out later, and it might be better to ask the officer to come back to your house with you to see if the weapon is still there.
There were other times people were allowed to talk incessantly while on the stand (a guy bragging about the women he slept with and how good he was). I wondered why the judge wasn’t telling him to shut up or finding him in contempt of court.
I don’t even mind the small flaws, like McConaughey having a California license plate that says NTGUILTY, which is one letter more than you can have on a plate (although it would’ve been simple enough to have the plate read NT GILTY).
Now, I was with a packed audience that loved this movie. I talked to other movie critics that loved this movie. Maybe it’s because I’ve read so many books about legal cases and have friends that are lawyers, I just couldn’t let the flaws go.
Oh, here were another set of flaws I just thought of.
There were things said that I caught, and these brilliant legal minds in the movie didn’t. One character keeps saying, when shown the police evidence that will be used against him, “That is not my knife!”
I immediately thought “Well, does that mean you have a knife, and where is your knife?” The lawyers didn’t ask that, and were surprised when his knife popped up when given the prosecutions files.
And movie pet peeve #128 appears in this. That’s when you use old jokes for movie dialogue. In this, it involves McConaughey and Macy looking out the window of a skyscraper and talking about someone that committed suicide. When McConaughey asks what he thinks the last thing was that went through his mind, Macy says “His a**hole!”
It’s strange to think that a lot of critics were tough in their reviews of the Cape Fear remake, which had similar moral questions, but was a lot better.
This movie had potential, but ends up coming across like one of those legal thrillers we got so much of in the 90s.
I joked as I left the theatre that I couldn’t believe McConaughey did an entire movie without taking his shirt off. A woman immediately corrected me, exclaiming “He took his shirt off. It was a brief scene, but it was there.”
She, like everyone else, loved this movie. I just wanted to find that antique gun, and do a number on the screenwriter.
It gets a D-.