Mick Haller (Matthew McConaughey) is The Lincoln Lawyer, a flashy Los Angeles defense attorney who runs his practice out of his Lincoln town car, driven by chauffer Earl (Laurence Mason). After he is passed the case of Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe) a wealthy businessman facing charges of rape, battery, and assault with a deadly weapon, Mick becomes entrapped in a web of lies that threatens his faith in the system as well as the safety of those closest to him—his ex-wife and District Attorney Maggie (Marisa Tomei), and friend/PI Frank (William H. Macy).

In The Lincoln Lawyer, there are some clear “good guys” and some clear “bad guys.” Then there’s Mick and his associates firmly planted in moral ambiguity. There’s a lot of grey area in the plot and in the development of the characters and, to me, this uncertainty is the strongest part of the story. The plot is compelling and twisted enough to be suspenseful without becoming contrived. The dilemma Mick gets himself trapped in hinges on abuse of prejudices and of the justice system, but the narrative is refreshingly free of overt social commentary. There are moments where the audience is lead to see problems in characters’ views or actions, but these moments are subtle and well executed. I was surprised not only by the story’s ending, but also by how deep the character development ran.

The aesthetic of the movie is intentionally gritty. Instead of the lush, glamorous side of L.A. that movies often show, the setting looks parched. Even the photo on the movie poster is distressed. It seems that the artistic directors were trying to create the feeling that Mick was a somewhat morally bankrupt renegade. And it works. I wish, however, that this imagery had been used more fully. If the film had been dipped more in film noir conventions or had more consistently portrayed Mick as a rebel, the entire production would have sizzled more.

After Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, Fools Gold, and Failure to Launch, I was starting to doubt that Matthew McConaughey could still act. Fortunately, he can. He brings his signature charm to his portrayal of Mick, but also makes Mick a well-meaning jerk. Between his mercenary approach to the law, his wishy-washy relationship with Maggie, and his soft spot for his friends and his daughter, Mick is pretty complicated. McConaughey moves through these different attitudes with ease and works through Mick’s crisis of conscience/drunken bender believably. As Mick’s pal and ex-wife Marisa Tomei matches McConaughey in complexity. It’s hard to tell how Maggie feels about Mick and Tomei captures her uncertainty and steals every scene she’s in. Ryan Phillippe, on the other hand, has to switch between appearing innocent and appearing totally evil and he never captures anything in-between. Amidst so many intricately crafted characters, his performance looks weak.

Although The Lincoln Lawyer was an enjoyable movie, the pacing had so many peaks and lulls at times I thought the adaptation would have made a better TV series. The plot meanders through the first third of the movie until suddenly Mick is in big trouble. The middle third is pretty exciting, but the end returns to a much slower pace, causing the whole movie to feel slightly off-balance and episodic. I rate it 3.5/5 stars.

The Lincoln Lawyer was written by John Romano based upon the novel by Michael Connelly and directed by Brad Furman. It runs 118 minutes and is rated R for some violence, sexual content and language.