Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Movie Reviews: Lawyers, Conspirators, and Lincolns

The Lincoln Lawyer movie poster, property of Lionsgate.
The Conspirator movie poster, property of Roadside Attractions.
The Lincoln Lawyer AWESOME!
The Conspirator AWESOME!

Two very different courtroom dramas, both having to do with Lincolns—one being the car and the other being the president. 

In The Lincoln Lawyer, Matthew McConaughey plays a slick defense lawyer named Mick Haller.  He does most of his business from the backseat of his Lincoln town car while being driven around by his chauffeur.  He used to drive himself until he got his license revoked because of too many DUIs.  He’s kind of a bad boy.  His clients are usually seedy hustlers, members of motorcycle gangs, and other riffraff.  But his newest client, Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe), is very different.  He’s the son of a very wealthy and high-profile family.  He’s been accused of raping and beating a woman, and insists he is innocent.  This movie made me look at client confidentiality in a whole new light…

In Robert Redford’s The Conspirator, we are taken back in time to the moment President Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth.  One of the accused co-conspirators is a woman named Mary Surratt (Robin Wright).  She runs a boarding house where Booth and others—including Surratt’s son—met up to plan the assassination.  Nobody believes Surratt is innocent, not even her lawyer Frederick Aiken (James McAvoy) who has been dumped with her case.  A Civil War vet who fought for the North, Aiken finds it to be very difficult to defend this woman who may or may not have been involved in the murder of his president.  However, he soon realizes that she isn’t being tried fairly.  The movie never decides for us if Mary Surratt was guilty or not.  We as the audience can make that decision for ourselves.  The point of the movie is this:  every citizen deserves a fair trial, even if they are accused of the most heinous crimes.

Both movies were very good.  The Lincoln Lawyer I saw a few weeks back, and might even be out of theaters at this point.  If you haven’t seen it, be sure to rent it when it becomes available.  Since Matthew McConaughey seems to be only in banal chick flicks these days, I’ve started to doubt his abilities as an actor.  However, with The Lincoln Lawyer he proves that he’s more than a nice set of abs and a southern drawl.  He’s actually a pretty adept actor!  His portrayal of Mick Haller was very well done, and the movie also benefits from a stellar supporting cast including Marisa Tomei, William H. Macy, Josh Lucas and John Leguizamo.  The twist that happens about midway is very interesting and puts the lawyer in a very difficult predicament.  I don’t want to give it away, but it really made the movie work for me.

The Conspirator also boasts a great cast of actors.  James McAvoy did a spectacular job as the conflicted young lawyer, and Robin Wright was equally impressive as a woman trying desperately to protect her son even if it meant being sentenced for his crimes.  I had read in other reviews that the characters were all one-dimensional, but I didn’t find that to be the case when I watched this movie.  Both Aiken and Surratt were complex, and Surratt’s daughter played by Evan Rachel Wood was also very interesting.  I’m always impressed with Wood’s performances.  Tom Wilkinson, Kevin Kline, Justin Long, Jonathan Groff, and Alexis Bledel all had great—albeit small—roles to play. 

Our justice system can be complicated, and both The Lincoln Lawyer and The Conspirator highlight that fact.  Lawyers must do their best to protect the rights of their clients, whether they are judged guilty or not.

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