(by Mike Anthony)
This movie is a very welcome return to a dramatic leading role for Matthew McConaughey, after what seemed like an endless string of light, comedic or romantic roles over the past few years.  He plays a high-priced lawyer who can get almost anyone , guilty or innocent, off the hook for the right price.  He has a Lincoln, a driver, and operates his legal practice darting from court to court, meeting to meeting, and the image of him in the vehicle conjures up the notion of ambulance-chasing to the extreme. He is always on the move and his mobile phone and car serve as all the office he needs. He ends up representing a rich young man (played by Ryan Phillipe) who is accused of the brutal rape and beating of a call girl. And, as we find out in the trailer and in the first third of the film, this young man may be capable of much more.
The movie is one that has more comlex layers than the trailer's not just about a client who may be dangerous. The story also touches on the modern dilemmas of divorced couples who still share custody and duties. It also alludes (fairly weakly, mind you) to issues of work-related stress, drinking to relieve stress, and why the lead character operates with a car and driver in the first place: alcohol consumption and losing his licence.  I suspect this angle got more traction in the novel by best-selling writer Michael Connelly, but the screenplay by John Romano only focuses on that thread peripherally. Prior to this Romano's work has been primarily focused on various producer, exec producer and creative producer roles for several TV series. Apparantly he's also a heck of a personal assistant, having served as Julia Roberts' assistant when she was at her award-winning peak with another legal drama "Erin Brokovich."  Another layer of the story deals with the role of how a defense attourney can handle working on behalf of someone who may be guilty, and doing their best to help that client remain free, get a reduced sentence, or simply stay alive if the death penalty is involved. In this film when he takes on the case of rich, spoiled, and (no worries; the trailers reveal this) likely guilty Louis Roulet, he faces the bi-polar dilemma of doing his best to defend a man he not only dislikes but knows will attack his family to leverage him to keep on doing his best work. He wants to see the arrogant & evil playboy pay for his actions, but is bound by duty to defend him. That's the main event here, and is worth the price of admission.
The rest of the cast is good too; although some well-known stars took roles that ended up being fairly minor (but quite necessary for plot reasons) in the movie. McConaughey's role as the troubled Mick Haller is the centre of this particular universe, but he is well supported by the ex-wife and fellow lawyer played by Marissa Tomei, and the scene stealing William H Macy as his assistant investigator Frank.  Rounding things out are Josh Lucas; who trades in his "hunk" status-card to take on the role of the District Attourney, and well-travelled John Leguizamo as a Bail Bondsman who seems unnecessary until the final few moments. Ultimately his role still seems almost an added-on afterthought, but at least he plays the minimal screen time he gets to the best of his ability.  Really chewing up the scenery just as much as Macy is Bryan Cranston (the dad on "Malcolm in the Middle" and the dentist Tim Whatley on "Seinfeld") as a tired, cynical cop. And, while even his fans might not clue in till they see the credits, country singer and baritone Trace Adkins pulls off a well-done biker gang leader. It's pretty cool to spot him without is trademark hat and ponytail, and his acting chops ain't too bad at all.
In fact, this whole film isn't too bad after all, and it's nice to see Mr McConaughey show he still has dramatic ability in spades. It's just about two hours in length, and while I think it could have been trimmed to about 90 or 100 minutes, it's still quite good. It should more than hold your interest.
3 Good Things About This Movie:
- William H Macy is tremendously enjoyable
- Plays out like a well written novel, which is what it is based on
- It's one of those movies where you really REALLY relish the bad guys getting their just desserts!
3 Bad Things About This Movie:
- Ryan Phillipe's character's gay slurs are so lazy and out-of-date they seem meaningless (other than showing he's a judgemental jerk)
- The central character's reliance on alcohol is clumsily and casually handled to the point where some people will miss it entirely---but you won't now that you've read this review
- So many supporting characters that some good ones get lost in the shuffle: like the driver of the Lincoln and the lawyer's daughter---what's her name again?