"The Lincoln Lawyer" review: Matthew McConaughey back in the driver's seat

In this film publicity image released by Lionsgate, Matthew McConaughey, left, and Ryan Phillippe are shown in a scene from "The Lincoln Lawyer." (
Saeed Adyani),AP Photo/Lionsgate
Matthew McConaughey, left, and Ryan Phillippe are shown in a scene from "The Lincoln Lawyer."
Matthew McConaughey, left, and Ryan Phillippe are shown in a scene from "The Lincoln Lawyer."

New York (CBS) Based on a legal thriller from veteran bestseller Michael Connelly and directed by Brad Furman, "The Lincoln Lawyer" is a rich, complex, character-driven courtroom drama, filled with clever twists and turns that will keep you guessing 'til the very end.

Pictures: The movie's premiere

Those who remember Matthew McConaughey as a sweaty Mississippi lawyer in the film adaptation of John Grisham's legal suspense drama "A Time to Kill," will be pleased to see him return to the courtroom.

They will be even more pleased to find that a sense of maturity and growth underpins this performance in what may arguably be the most impressive role of McConaughey's career to date.

This time around, he plays Mick Haller, an unconventional, L.A. defense attorney, whose office is the back of his chauffeured Lincoln convertible. He sold out a long time ago, having spent most of his career defending petty thieves and small time criminals to make the rent and support his ex, a prosecutor played by Marisa Tomei, and their daughter.

Haller lands what he thinks is the case of a lifetime (thanks to a bail bondsman played by John Leguizamo) when he is hired to defend rich Beverly Hills playboy, Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe), who's been accused of the rape and attempted murder of a prostitute. Haller relies on sidekick, Frank (William H. Macy) to help unearth the facts.

When things take a deadly turn, Haller finds himself caught up in a complex web of deceit. He grapples with how he must defend Roulet and another client (Michael Pena), while wrestling with his own conscience.

Harking back to the Grisham court thrillers of the '90s, Furman does a fine job putting together a mainstream thriller that has legs. Despite a few improbable moments inside the courtroom, the story stays credible, thanks to the strong grounding he provides with his characters.

McConaughey excels as the suave, yet slightly seedy attorney , leaving you to wonder why it took him so long to get back on track after his failure to launch in recent half-hearted romantic comedies.

Furman puts together a strong supporting cast . Marisa Tomei walks a thin line, alternating between a shrew who harps on everything Haller doesn't get right and a smoking hot woman who can't get enough of what he does get right.

William H. Macy is on point, as always, as the affable sidekick, taking on a role that was originally slated for Tommy Lee Jones, who was also supposed to direct, before he pulled out.

If anything, Phillippe proves the weak link. He is utterly believable as a thoroughly spoiled rich kid (we've seen him play that role before in "Cruel Intentions"), but he never quite manages to go beyond that, failing to deliver the hardened criminal we are asked to believe he is.

At a hair under two hours, "The Lincoln Lawyer" is not short, but Furman manages to keep pace snappy, making the time you invested in this whodunit entirely worthwhile.

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