Ladies and gentlemen of the jury:
While deciding upon what to spend the pleasure-scraps of our well-earned dollar at the local Cinetorium, reviews are the most accessible tool we might choose to help us in our attempts not to mug ourselves. The trusted reviewer lies somewhere between benign counsellor and sage, directing our commodity-starved, impatient and anxious attention to places it might delight in.
Once, through a testing process of trial and error, we’ve found a publication or source whose ethos we trust, these good-natured mystics inhabit the metaphorical space of the real friends we don’t have, allowing a feeling of smug complicity as we baulk at the foolish opinions of our co-workers, whose oafish half-thoughts we can now haughtily disregard like the primordial drivel they are.
There are films that receive a level of critical adulation that surprises us into watching them. Films whose titles at which we might not have otherwise taken a second glance as we crept like shadows of beggars past the Cineplex’s intimidatingly vast, glittering façade.
On the other hand, there are those that receive bafflingly good reviews from one critic or another – reviews that seem to be somewhat disproportionally favourable to what’s actually there, leading us to suspect foul play and thenceforth disregard this or that particular hack as nothing more than a money-grabbing Judas.
Then there’s The Lincoln Lawyer. A film with generally glowing reviews across the board that was, in reality, so utterly charmless it might have been sat in Starbucks, laughing emphatically down a Bluetooth headset whilst scratching its balls. Badly filmed and scripted, with dialogue to the standard of the late-night soft-core television thrillers you might have seen during the early days of Channel 5, it’s directed by a man called Brad Furman (honestly, what’s the first thing that goes through your head when you read the name Brad Furman? It’s ‘Kill Brad Furman’, right?), an apparently grown and mentally able individual, who wears his baseball cap backwards in black and white photographs on the internet, and is, I can’t help but imagine, a massive fucking twat.
Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to it put to you today that The Lincoln Lawyer should, nay, must, be banished to the depths of the deepest petrol station bargain buckets, never to be seen again, and the critics who have betrayed our trust brought to collective justice. I’ll endeavour to break down the case for you.
Exhibit A: Genre
The Lincoln Lawyer falls into that most ridiculous and unholy vein of film – the courtroom thriller. In this unforgivable sub-genre, we, the public, are invited to perform the frankly laughable task of sympathising with the kinds of odious creatures we all know take pleasure in licking the faces of crying children and gang raping immigrants at money-fuelled sex séances.
It will therefore mostly be enjoyed by balding alpha wannabes approaching middle age: men who still sniff cocaine because they think it’s cool; men who listen to singers like Adele and Duffy on their surround sound set-up; men who drive fast, impractical cars down small residential streets and accidentally rub their clammy crotches against teenage daughters’ pretty friends at birthday parties.
For the entire duration of a film (1 hour, 53 minutes, 26 seconds in case you were wondering), the studio expects us to imagine these no-soul creeps actually harbour feelings, dreams and hopes. What more do you expect, Furman?! Are we supposed to connect with these villains? You might as well have based an entire film on an entitled rich-kid estate agent!
Ryan Phillipe as a "rich-kid estate agent"
Exhibit B: Plot
Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillipe) is an entitled rich-kid estate agent who hires Michael ‘Mick’ Haller (Matthew McConaughey) to defend him against some rather nasty charges. A prostitute has been beaten to within an inch of her life, and poor old Louis has the feeling he’s being set up. But why has he hired a beatnik like Haller when he’s got loads of dosh? And why does the man Louis suspects of framing him only appear in a flashback, and not as an established character? Could something suspicious be going on?
Do you think?
The film centres on the exploits of Haller, as he unwittingly goes about finding out whodunnit. I say unwittingly because Haller really doesn’t want to know whodunit. He’s a defence lawyer, see, who specialises in defending guilty men. His approach tends to involve driving around a lot, looking occasionally puzzled, driving around some more and getting really drunk (real men drink to explore their feelings).
Without wanting to totally ruin this film for anyone who might want to see it, here’s a brief overview: Haller drives around, gets the big case, figures out the big case, gets intimidated a bit, gets his partner killed, looks upset a bit and then kills his client’s Mum. The usual.
There’s more: He has horny sex with his estranged wife while they’re drunk (in probably one of the most prudish sex scenes of the year scene backed by a band that sounds suspiciously like a ‘street’ version of Maroon 5 – can you quite imagine how awful that is?), discredits a victim of an attempted rape in court, shouts at a crying Mexican man in a flashback, gets shouted at by the same Mexican man in the present (whose new stance against crying and for shouting, presumably hardened via numerous anus-based incidents in prison, is visually illustrated by a fully shaved head and a moustache), and cracks jokes with his black chauffeur (no, seriously, it’s not what you think – the guy needed a job. He’s grateful to be driving his Haller around. Seriously. They’re friends. It’s a favour. He’s helping his friend. Come on!).
Ryan Phillipe did it, if you hadn’t already guessed.
Exhibit C – Writing
If the above reads more like a random sequence of events than a coherent plot, then I’ve adequately summed up this film’s approach. To go into the ins and outs of the story would do a disservice to script-writers and writers everywhere; it’s genuinely too stupid for words. There’s no reason for anything that happens. Umpteen avenues and loose ends are left unexplored and loose. In some films this might be a good thing. But to return for a second to Furman (‘kill Furman’): he’s clearly a fucking idiot.
Before he even touched it though, it should be given to him that any potential there was for an emotional response to these characters beyond the obligatory bile-in-mouth reaction is made nearly impossible by the writing. The script is literally hammier than Lawrence Olivier sporting a suit fashioned from slabs of honey-roast with pork scratching buttons.
Exhibit D: Matthew McConaughey
To the intended audience of this film, however, all that plot/character malarkey is essentially playing second fiddle to the wish-fulfilment of watching Mathew McConaughey be cool. That’s what this is really about. Studios probably only green-light lawyer-type films if they get the requisite actors. If films made to manipulate women play on the idea of a classy Mr Right made accessible through his emotional vulnerability, films to manipulate men are essentially about the same thing, but with the female lead relegated to (a potentially, even preferably, multiple) female bit-part, and all the mushy, kissy stuff replaced with violence.
It’s a grand acting tour-de-force for sure: McConaughey gamely flips type-casting on its head, veering from his standard job of looking creepily over-confident and sexual in countless crap romcoms to looking over-confident and creepily sexual in this – in one fell swoop switching the gender binary of his fan-base from essentially lonely, unimaginative, romantically deprived women to essentially unimaginative, lonely, romantically incapable men. Ah, individualism! How you have chastened us!
Exhibit E: What’s cool?
Haller is good at what he does, which is cool. So good, in fact, that he’s never been heard of by the big boys at the big law firm. But that’s cool too because that means he’s sticking it to the man. He drives around LA to a mid-90s Hip Hop soundtrack – not LA G-Funk though as you might expect, because cool has to be a tiny bit more obscure – looking (meltdowns aside) really cool, helping the lowlifes of LA get out of prison time. ‘You’d have done well on the streets.’ His driver/token black friend (does he even have a name? I honestly don’t think he has a name) says to him at one point. ‘Where do you think I am?’ McConaughey replies in his Southern drawl, an irritating shit-lipped grin on his face.
He’s so fucking cool! Haller’s so cool he even manages to hold his composure sitting next to the man responsible for his best friend’s death. He’s so cool he can even convincingly defend this same man in court. So cool he can get this man he knows is guilty off the hook whilst making that silly DA (what a good-hearted dork he is) look faintly ridiculous, taking apart the main witness (the victim of an attempted rape by his client) with ease and reducing her, in the process, to a stream of infantile tears (get over it honey – it didn’t actually happen). Cool.
The cracks in the façade are where we’re supposed find sympathy. Just because these people don’t air their emotions in public, it says, they’re still humans driven by the same kinds of will as our own. We just don’t see it. Thus we see Haller in a position of vulnerability. In one scene, completely alone save the camera’s beady, pervert eye, we see Mick in a private personal crisis. We know this is a vulnerable moment because the shot is zoomed unrelentingly on his wrinkled eyes, which are being anxious, and staring forward (intense thought or vacant idiocy?). This might be the scene that stirred up all those positive reviews for McConaughey. Wrinkles are a big deal for a Hollywood heart-throb.
For all external appearances though, he’s the complete man, and cracks only in private. He dominates women, of course. There’s one scene where a pretty female lawyer calls him a ‘prick’, and you know that really it’s because he’s so good at law, he sexually intimidates her and really, though she might really hate him, she just wants to fuck him really badly. I read one review of this film which asserts that McConaughey’s Haller is ‘sleazy’, and this the basis the author makes for claiming his is a good performance. I would make a different claim. The film is sleazy, and as such McConaughey can’t really go wrong.
"Part Just For Men, part Lassie" - William H Macy's hair, and William H Macy
Exhibit F: Message
Here, we come to the crux of what angers me about this film. Its principles are in total opposition to mine. I might be a bleeding-heart liberal at times, but I like ‘dark’ things as much as the next guy. It’s just that every note this film struck was a bum. Not only is Furman is an idiot, but I’d like to add ‘misogynist’ to that accusation. Moral ambiguity is great. We love moral ambiguity. Moral ambiguity can be interesting, thought-provoking. This is not moral ambiguity, make no mistake.
This film is set in a macho, emotionless world of casual acquaintances where women are two-dimensional non-presences, good for fucking, leering at, outsmarting or being smug towards. They’re easy to sleep with – either you get them drunk as Haller does, or hire them as Roulet does. If it’s that easy, the film seems to ask, what’s even the point of raping them? They’re easy to discredit in court, and easy to kill. Roulet’s mother is a rape victim herself. How does that lead to him going a-raping? Why does this lead to her killing people on his behalf? The film’s casual disregard, a lack of even attempting to broach these two key questions, further proves what a moronic piece of nonsense it is. It’s so confused it doesn’t even know. Furman either doesn’t have a clue, or doesn’t care.
In fact, it doesn’t say much about anything, except what it’s clearly trying not to. Haller is a cold-hearted, self-serving arsehole. He’s vile. And more shockingly, he’s not even presented as an anti-hero. He’s just a hero. There’s a weirdly misjudged line about homosexuality, and an even more oddly mishandled line about capital punishment, when Haller tells Roulet that he’ll see him squirm as the needle goes into his arm. In the light of how flawed the film seems to show the justice system as being, and the recent case of Troy Davis in Georgia, this particular line dropped like a massive clanging anvil.
A film has no obligation to be morally ‘correct’. A director, however, does have an obligation not to be lazy. And reviewers have an obligation not to be idiots.
Exhibit G: Style
This is a more personal gripe: this film had the worst collection of haircuts you could have ever wished on a bunch of actors. William H Macy gives a game go at bringing some genuine supporting clout to the project, but is undermined at every moment of on-screen time by a ridiculous fluffy mullet thing that’s somewhere between a 1970s Just For Men advert and Lassie. It acts like a naughty animal too, stealing every scene it’s in, and shitting on it.
Exhibit H: Cinematography
Like an episode of CSI. Totally unimaginative crap. Flashbacks, for example, are helpfully identified as such with blurry ‘we’re in the past’ figures and faded colour palettes.
As you’ll no doubt have noticed, my invective has gradually lost its energy, my righteous indignation dwindling. I’m not about to watch this film again to stoke my anger, ladies and gentlemen. Life is genuinely too short. All I can attempt to say, in closing, spent and weary with the effort, is that there’s absolutely no point to any of The Lincoln Lawyer, no reason for the film to exist at all. It says nothing about anything. Which would be fine, except it isn’t a suspenseful or interesting way to say nothing. There’s, no excitement, no interest in the journey. What’s more, every potential moment of excitement is mishandled, so you feel like Furman has let off another fart in your stupid, duped face.
The Lincoln Lawyer would love to think of itself driving around the edgy streets of LA, working hard and playing harder, making its own rules, saving the day. Instead, it opens its eyes to find itself a paunchy, red-eyed alcoholic, balding and depressed, desperately jerking off bathed in computer light on another grey, listless afternoon. One can only hope this is the position Brad Furman, and those traitorous critic bastards, find themselves in one day.
 As an aside, I have to note here how it’s usually possible to spot a crap book/film by the way the characters are named. Clunky character names are usually indicative of a half-arsed writer. Just have a browse down the list of characters here. Detective Lankford and Cecil Dobbs are two of my favourites.
 There’s the Lincoln from the title. I’m guessing the book has more on that, but it’s something to do with a certain brand of lawyer that deals with the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles. As this is left totally to our imaginations, it just looks like he’s too crap to have his own office so he works from his car.
 Maybe the hair is the reason for Haller’s poker-faced reaction when confronted with the body of his friend face-down on the floor, gunshot wound to the head?
Contributor Ed Wall is a musician, photographer and writer. You can buy his new EP here, and follow him on Twitter @Edward1Wall