So, last year before the 2010 Oscar nominees were announced I posted a plea to get Leonardo DiCaprio a nomination for his stunning work in ‘Shutter Island’. Obviously, I know that I have absolutely no pull whatsoever. At that point I think I only had like five followers. With twelve, I think my pull is about the same, and last year’s Oscar race is completely over so there is really no need for this entry other than to discuss something that happened to me last night and completely blew my mind.
Walking into ‘The Lincoln Lawyer’, I was well aware that the film itself would have to work extra hard to earn my respect. I don’t really care much for courtroom dramas, and I find Matthew McConaughey to be a really dull presence on screen. I know that everyone swoons over him and talks about his ‘Southern Charm’, but I just don’t buy it. On top of that, I just don’t find him to be a convincing actor. I don’t see layers in his work; I merely see a lazy approach to telling the same character over and over. There has been a lot of talk of the sudden upswing in his career, starting with this particular film and moving right on into his string of successful turns this year. Much has been made of his Oscar chances for ‘Magic Mike’ and he’s getting career best notices for the savage drama ‘Killer Joe’. Needless to say, I didn’t care much. I have yet to see any of his films from this year and I wasn’t really anticipating them much to tell you the truth. When I hear the name Matthew McConaughey I don’t expect much.
So, last night I settled in to catch up on my DVR recordings and I noticed that I had ‘The Lincoln Lawyer’ on my DVR. I didn’t record it, must have been the wife, but I wasn’t really in the mood to think and so I decided to give it a whirl, since I expected it to be ‘good’ at best and hardly something I’d feel compelled to dissect.
I have to learn to stop judging every book by its cover.
As a film, ‘The Lincoln Lawyer’ is riveting and kept me glued throughout. I was stunned. The plot twists are engaging, and while the obviousness of the ‘villain’ is a little too on the nose from the start, it becomes an easily forgivable offence since they aren’t really interested in keeping his innocence ambiguous for very long. The progression of the plot is well done and expertly paced by director Brad Furman, who holds onto the tension efficiently. The final courtroom scene is pulse-racing for sure, and basically exemplifies everything that a courtroom drama should be. In fact, I loved the fact that I never knew what Mick’s next move would be and why he was making it, but when it all fell into place it made perfect sense.
And that brings me to Mick, or should I say, Matthew McConaughey. Why do I call this a case of Oscar snubbery? I don’t know if I’d personally nominate him, considering that last year was ridiculously strong, but a very solid case can be made for McConaughey being a snub because this role is every bit a perfect one to garner a star their first Oscar nomination. What McConaughey does here is actually quite remarkable, and I don’t say there merely because he took me by surprise or because I expected him to fail. Any other actor in the role doing what he does would have garnered the same response from me. I am not one to shy away from eating crow, and that is what I must do here.
Something that I have always accused Matthew of doing is giving us a surface performance, with no actual depth. I understand that in the beginning of his career he tried the whole ‘soul searching drama’ stuff, and he did do ‘A Time to Kill’ and yet I didn’t care much for what he did in that film and so it doesn’t count for me. I’ve never felt that he has ever gotten under the skin of the character much at all; until now. As Mick Haller, McConaughey layers so much on this man it’s ridiculous. In fact, the more I think about it the more stunned I am by the scope of his performance. Mick is suave and under control and possesses that ‘Southern Charm’ and sheer confidence that makes him a firm presence in any room. That is something that McConaughey should be able to handle in his sleep. But it is the tiny layers of panic that ride through his face when no one is looking that took me by surprise. Mick wasn’t just a stone, and as this ‘case’ took over his personal life and threatened him in the severest of ways, you saw those cracks. McConaughey let us in to see the inner turmoil, but then batted an eyelash and firmed up his stance and delivered a ‘performance’ for the rest of the room that read otherwise. Mick is a showman, and McConaughey mastered that aspect of his persona with ease. The way he plays his part in the courtroom or the way he betrays his own panic by laying a threat of confidence out on his ‘client’ is compelling and 100% believable. The anger that floods his motives is also stirring and he sells his biggest moments with such authenticity. I appreciated that he never overacted here, and there was place for it. Instead, he displayed an honest depiction of emotional outbursts that stayed true to the man he was portraying.
When all is said and done, Mick Haller may be human, but he is one cool cat.
So, I give this very high marks. The film is intriguing and engrossing from start to finish. It has the ability to veer into ‘television courtroom drama’ territory, as do a lot of films in this genre, and yet it pulls back with a glossy treatment and a plot that thickens rather well. It’s more ‘CSI: Miami’ than ‘Law & Order’, but Matthew McConaughey delivers a star performance that puts David Caruso to shame.