Thursday, November 17, 2011


We first meet defense attorney Mick Haller (Matthew McConaughey) on his way to consult with one of his repeat offenders while bail bondsman Val Valenzuela (John Leguizamo) pitches Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe) as a wealthy potential client who’s been charged with assault.  Money talks to our Mr. Haller.  And though Roulet already has a lawyer (Bob Gunton) and an overprotective mother (Frances Fisher), Haller takes the case, convinced that his new client has been framed despite evidence gathered by prosecutor Ted Minton (Josh Lucas).  But he and investigator Frank Levin (William H. Macy) soon discover that Roulet is not as innocent as he claims and may be implicated in a murder that Haller persuaded incarcerated former client Jesus Martinez (Michael Peña) to plead years back.  Further complicating matters, Haller becomes the target of a fresh murder investigation headed by grizzled Detective Lankford (Bryan Cranston).  Marisa Tomei (still underused but better served here than in CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE.) rounds out the cast as a prosecuting attorney and Haller’s ex-wife.  Michael Connelly’s novel gets a crackerjack adaptation by John Romano, who gives even minor characters rich textures and sharp dialogue to relish.  The plot is smart without being convoluted and never resorts to tired heroics or manipulative melodrama.  Brad Furman’s direction displays a vitality and verve reminiscent of the American film renaissance of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s (with able assistance from cinematographer Lukas Ettlin and composer Cliff Martinez).  The casting is near perfect.  Pretty boy Phillippe has never displayed much range, but when used well (as he was in Robert Altman’s superlative GOSFORD PARK) you can forgive much.  Here Phillippe’s inability to act works to the film’s benefit.  McConaughey, on the other hand, has held promise since Richard Linklater’s DAZED AND CONFUSED.  With this performance as a lawyer with his own slippery version of ethics, he has found a film and a role that delivers on that promise.  This sharp, modest thriller will surprise you with its reliance on the old-fashioned virtue of crisp storytelling.

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